Romans - Lesson 1

Introduction to Paul's Letter to the Romans

From this lesson, you will gain a comprehensive understanding of the background and context of Paul's Letter to the Romans. You will learn that Romans is not just a theological treatise but a letter written by Paul with specific pastoral purposes in mind. Paul's intention to move on to Spain and his planned visits to Jerusalem and Rome are discussed. The reasons for writing Romans are explored, including the preparation for ministry in Spain, the encouragement, and rebuke of the Roman Christians, and the need to address the division between Jewish and Gentile believers in Rome's multiple house churches. This lesson provides insight into the complex dynamics of the early Christian community and the theological questions it faced regarding the role of the Law in the era of Christ.

Lesson 1
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Introduction to Paul's Letter to the Romans

I. Introduction to Paul’s Letter to the Romans

A. The Nature of Romans as a Letter

B. Purpose and Context of Romans

C. Paul's Ministry and Mission

II. Reasons for Writing Romans:

A. Personal and Theological Reasons

B. Preparing for Ministry in Spain

C. Encouraging and Rebuking the Roman Christians

1. Healing the Split in the Roman Congregation

III. Theological Climate of Paul's Day

A. The Challenge of the Jew-Gentile Relationship

B. The Role of Israel in Salvation History

C. The Unexpected Growth of Gentile Christians

1. Jesus as Messiah and Fulfillment of Promises to Israel

2. Wrestling with the Issue of Jew and Gentile, Law and the Gospel, and Israel


  • This lesson offers a deep dive into Paul's Letter to the Romans, revealing its pastoral aims, Paul's intentions to visit Spain, Jerusalem, and Rome, and its relevance to early Christian dynamics and theological inquiries about the Law in Christ's time.
  • This lesson offers a fresh view of Paul's theology, focusing on Romans. It emphasizes the first-century context, highlighting Gentile inclusion and unity in Christ, challenging traditional views. Gain insights into Paul's message and its relevance today.
  • Explore the book of Romans for modern faith conflicts: balance tradition with contemporary practices, learn from history, and grasp Paul's ministry and Gospel's complexities.
  • Follow along with Dr. Moo as he begins a thorough review of Romans 1:2-5. You will learn how Paul emphasizes Jesus' earthly life, resurrection, and his appointment as the Son of God in power. This lesson examines the interconnectedness of faith and obedience, underscoring that while faith initiates salvation, genuine faith inherently entails obedience to Christ as Lord, maintaining a balanced Christian life.
  • By delving into Romans 1:16-17, you'll understand the Gospel extends beyond individual salvation, encompassing God's reign over creation and His establishment of justice. The Gospel challenges worldly powers, offering hope and transformation to all who embrace it.
  • Listen along as the class discusses questions and answers revolving around Romans 1:16-17.
  • In Romans 1:18-28, you learn that all people are held accountable by God, having knowledge of Him through natural revelation but some turn away. This passage highlights the manifestation of God's wrath against sin, the exchange of truth for falsehoods, and the absence of excuses for humanity's actions, ultimately emphasizing God's fair judgment.
  • Listen in as the class and Dr. Moo discuss aspects of Romans 1:18-28.
  • The lesson discusses Romans 2:1-11, it highlights the use of the diatribe device and the transition from focusing on Gentiles to Jews. It underscores the Jewish belief in their special status and their potential misunderstanding of God's judgment. The lesson reviews the focus of the text on key themes such as judgment, righteousness, and the relationship between faith and good deeds.
  • In this lesson, you'll review the significance of the Law, notably the Law of Moses, in God's judgment. Paul stresses that mere knowledge of the Law isn't sufficient for righteousness; obedience is key. The primary message is that salvation ultimately relies on God's grace and the Gospel of Jesus Christ, as human efforts and consciences alone cannot secure salvation. This lesson highlights the importance of understanding these concepts in interactions with people of different religious beliefs.
  • The key takeaway in this lesson is that while being a Jew comes with a great heritage, it doesn't guarantee salvation. Obedience to God's law is crucial, and reliance on religious heritage or rituals won't save you. The lesson emphasizes the universal human condition of being under the power of sin, and people cannot be declared righteous in God’s sight by observing the Law or by the works of the Law. Only through faith in Christ are we made righteous.
  • This lesson explores the New Perspective on Paul, emphasizing that the Law was for Jewish covenant status, not just salvation. It promotes a holistic faith view, balancing vertical and horizontal aspects, Spirit-led obedience, and 1st-century Judaism diversity, enriching Pauline teachings in the church.
  • In exploring Romans 3:21-26, you'll gain insights into the relationship between righteousness, faith, and salvation. Paul highlights God's righteousness, which is accessible to all through faith in Jesus Christ. By weaving together themes of righteousness, faith, and inclusivity, Paul challenges conventional Jewish and Gentile perspectives, emphasizing the continuity of God's salvation plan while underscoring the centrality of faith in Christ for all believers.
  • In this lesson, you will gain insights into the potential challenge in translating Romans 3:23-24, particularly the term "all" and its connection to the debate on universalism in evangelicalism. Dr. Moo stresses the importance of coherence in biblical interpretation and explores the themes of God's righteousness, faith, and grace in justification. The lesson reviews the cultural background of redemption, drawing parallels with the Greco-Roman slave market and emphasizing the need to understand both the problem of sin and the Gospel solution.
  • Embarking on this lesson, you'll gain insight into the historical development and contemporary challenges surrounding the doctrine of justification. Through exploring classic Reformation principles and contemporary reassessments, you'll understand the tensions between Protestant and Roman Catholic perspectives, particularly regarding the infusion of righteousness and the role of grace.
  • The lesson explores the intricate connection between faith and works, justification, and sanctification in contemporary theological discourse. It delineates divergent views on justification, with scholars like Piper advocating for the preservation of biblical distinctions amidst modern theological trends. The lesson examines key questions regarding the meaning, basis, time, and means of justification.
  • Students in Dr. Moo's class ask multiple questions about justification.
  • By studying Romans 3:27-4:25, you gain insight into Paul's theology, where faith, exemplified by Abraham's righteousness, transcends works and ethnicity, emphasizing the universal scope of salvation through Christ.
  • Hear the questions the students ask regarding Romans 3:27–4:25. And discover Dr. Moo's answers to the questions posed.
  • In Romans 5 – 8, you gain insights into profound theological concepts like justification, identity in Christ, and the tension between present reality and future hope, guiding you to embrace your changed identity and hope for future transformation amidst life's trials.
  • Students as deep questions about Romans 5-8. Hear what Dr. Moo presents as answers to their questions.
  • Through Romans 5:1-11, you'll review the contrast between the Old and New Realms, understanding the essence of living in grace, finding hope amid suffering, and experiencing the assurance of eternal security rooted in Christ's sacrifice and God's love poured into believers' hearts by the Holy Spirit.
  • In Romans 5:12-21, Paul contrasts Adam's sin with Christ's redemptive grace, emphasizing humanity's hope and victory over death through union with Christ, while various interpretations of original sin underscore the universal need for redemption and Christ's pivotal role in restoring humanity to God.
  • Listen to the thorough questions the students ask regarding Romans 5:12-21.
  • The students ask excellent questions of Dr. Moo in this insightful discussion on Romans 6:1-14.
  • Through this lesson, you will gain a deeper understanding of the theological implications of Christ's death and resurrection as explained in Romans 6. You will explore different interpretations of Paul's language regarding the old self and the new self, considering the implications for the Christian life. Ultimately, you will be challenged to recognize your identity in Christ and to actively live according to that identity, rejecting the slavery of sin and embracing servitude to God.
  • Hear the questions the students ask of Dr. Moo regarding Romans 6:1-23.
  • In diving into Romans 7, you'll explore the Law's role in Christian life. Paul's discourse clarifies the distinction between law and gospel, emphasizing the Torah's significance in understanding divine commandments.
  • Class discussion on Romans 7:1-6
  • In Romans 7:7-12, Paul explores the Law's role in intensifying sin and contrasts it with Christ's liberation. His narrative prompts reflection on individual experience and collective identity, enriching understanding of Christian faith.
  • The class discusses the previous lesson on Romans 7:7-12.
  • This lesson covers interpretations of Romans 7:13-25; whether Paul's description is of pre- or post-conversion struggle with the Law.
  • In Romans 8:1-22, discover the Spirit's transformative power over sin, leading to a life free from condemnation, intimacy with God, and anticipation of future glory amid present sufferings.
  • Explore the theological insights on environmental stewardship, emphasizing Christian responsibility in light of Romans 8:19-22.
  • Gain insights into Romans 8:23-27, understanding destined glory despite present suffering. The Spirit intercedes, bridging current and promised futures, offering assurance amid weakness.
  • Romans 8:28 offers profound insights into the nature of God's providence and the believer's journey of faith. Beyond its surface meaning, the verse challenges misconceptions about 'good' and underscores the transformative power of God's grace. It invites believers to trust in God's unfailing love amidst life's trials, anchoring their hope in the assurance of His sovereign care and redemptive purposes.
  • Romans 9:1-5 highlights Paul's profound concern for Israel's salvation and the theological complexities surrounding God's promises. Reviewing salvation history, you'll learn that God's offer of salvation for both Jew and Gentile, fits within the Old Testament narrative.
  • Paul discusses Israel's role in God's plan, emphasizing grace over race. He illustrates divine choices and sovereignty, sparking debates on salvation.
  • Discover diverse views on election, Israel's struggle with faith, and the significance of overcoming theological narrowness in Romans 9:30-10:21. Gain insights into law versus faith in attaining righteousness and the importance of engaging deeply with Scripture for a comprehensive understanding.
  • Gain insights into faith versus works, Christ as the culmination of the Law, and the inclusivity of righteousness through Him. Embrace unity in Christ, transcending cultural divisions, and embodying love and holiness.
  • Gain insight into contrasting righteousness by law vs. faith in Romans 10:5-13. Accessibility of salvation through Christ bridges Old and New Testament teachings, emphasizing unity and continuity.
  • Gain insights into Romans 10:14-21, emphasizing faith, preaching, and Israel's reception of the message. Dr. Moo highlights Paul's use of Old Testament quotes and God's ongoing relationship with Israel, revealing the significance of faith and salvation.
  • Gain insight into Romans 11:11-15. Paul discusses Jewish rejection, Gentile salvation, and Jewish inclusion, aiming to provoke Jewish envy. The phrase "life from the dead" hints at spiritual renewal or future resurrection.
  • Gain insights into the Olive Tree analogy in Romans 11:16-24. Understand humility, faithfulness, and the purpose of warning passages in Scripture.
  • Discover the mystery of Israel's salvation in Romans 11:25-32. Paul reveals unity of Jews and Gentiles, challenging arrogance and emphasizing God's inclusive love.
  • Gain deeper understanding of Christian-Jewish ties, navigate theological challenges, address Israel-Palestine tensions, and embrace God's inclusive grace.
  • Gain deep insights into Romans 12:1-2: True worship extends beyond rituals, urging sacrificial living and transformation in response to God's mercy.
  • In Romans 12:3-8, Paul stresses humility, unity, and diverse gifts within the body of Christ, urging faithful stewardship for the edification of the body of Christ.
  • Gain insights into love's complexity in Romans 12:9-21. Paul urges sincere affection, alludes to Jesus' teachings, and prompts contemplation on love and judgment.
  • Gain insights into balancing submission to authorities with obedience to God. Understand the context of Paul's exhortation to Roman Christians and the complexities of submission, emphasizing humility, unity, and love in the Christian life within God's sovereignty.

Dr. Douglas Moo, from Wheaton College Graduate School, offers an exegetical examination of the book of Romans. This course was recorded during a D.Min. seminar at the Carolina Graduate School of Divinity in May 2012.

Please note that the audio mp3 file numbers on downloaded files are two greater than each lecture number beginning with number 15.

Dr. Douglas Moo 
Introduction to Paul's Letter to the Romans  
Lesson Transcript


I. Introduction to Paul’s Letter to the Romans

Let’s talk about the basis of the letter to Romans first. This is material that you are already familiar with but let me go over it with you because it is fundamental to get a sense of what is going on in the letter.

The Book of Romans, of course, is a letter; it is not a systematic theology. We don’t have Paul sitting in his office writing a theology in a vacuum. Paul is communicating certain points to a certain group of people in a certain context to accomplish certain purposes. He is writing a letter and for all of the significance of doctrine or theology in Romans, it is always theology directed toward a particular end. In other words, it is theology that Paul has designed to accomplish certain specific pastoral purposes. We have to have some sense of what those purposes were and some sense of what the situation is addressing is if we are rightly going to read the letter to the Romans.

In 15:14 and following, we have a very long concluding part of the Epistle to the Romans.  This is the longest conclusion to a letter we have in the New Testament. It is a very long description where Paul usually goes into talk about his travel plans and what he is planning to do next, and where he has been. He talks about associates and greets people and conveys greetings from people to others but all the way from 15:14 to the end of 16 we have Paul doing that.

What I call “the backward look” is very significant, I think; Paul uses language in verse 19 that is pretty strong. He talks about having completed and the verb used here can also be translated fulfilled; it is a very strong word: I fulfilled the Gospel of Christ all the way from Jerusalem around to Illyricum”, which is roughly equivalent to the former Yugoslavia.  What Paul is saying here is that he had finished the ministry that God gave him in this part of the Eastern Mediterranean world. Think of a map of the Mediterranean in your mind, think of the journeys of Paul in Southern Asia Minor and his ministry in Ephesus, Corinth, Thessalonica, and Philippi. Paul says that he had fulfilled the Gospel in all of these places. That obviously doesn’t mean that the Gospel’s work is finished in those regions, but it means that Paul conceived that his calling in those areas had been fulfilled. Paul was called to be a pioneering church planting missionary to establish churches that would be vibrant enough in themselves to carry on the work of evangelism in those particular areas. To use a contemporary example; if Paul were traveling through the Eastern United States, he may stop in Greensboro and preach the Gospel for three or four months; convert a number of people who would form a nucleus of solid believers with a vision for evangelism, and then move on to Charlotte and let the Christians who were converted in Greensboro do the work of evangelism  there. This was his sense of calling before God.

Basically, Paul is saying this area over here where I have been working is getting too crowded with Christians; I am uncomfortable staying here. I need to go somewhere where I can do more pioneering church planting and that place Paul says is Spain. That is where he is ultimately going to go (verse 24.) But before he goes to Spain, he is going to make two other stops, he is going to go to Jerusalem and then he is going to go to Rome. This is the itinerary Paul has mapped out for himself. He has been ministering in all these areas and he is now writing a letter probably from Corinth, a significant town where Christians were thriving in his day, then to go to Jerusalem and then to Rome and then to Spain. He talks about going to Jerusalem to minister to the saints. What is that ministry? Taking a collection which had been made for the saints in Jerusalem.   Now we begin to get into the specifics of the occasion.

II. Reasons for Writing Romans: 

So, why is Paul writing Romans? These are the Three explanations are usually given for the writing of Romans: first, Paul is writing for personal and theological reasons. This is more oriented to Paul’s own situation. You picture Paul sitting in an office at the church in Corinth writing about what he thinks about the Gospel; here is my theology. Some of you may have had to do what I did when I graduated with a Master of Divinity and that was to write a twelve-page doctrinal statement  regarding what I believe; it is broadly theological. Some people picture Romans in this way.

Again, the problem with that is why send his doctrinal statement to Rome? Why would Paul think that the Roman Christians would want to read his general doctrinal statement? More than that, as we think about the letter to the Romans, there are a lot of key theological issues that are not covered by Romans. We have no significant passage on Christology per se, on the person of Christ, nothing like Colossians 1 or Philippians 2. We don’t have any extended discussion of eschatology; the coming of Christ is mentioned once or twice, but there is nothing developed around eschatology properly. Clearly, Romans is more than just Paul talking about the Gospel. It may be that, but it is more than that.

The second purpose has been argued by Robert Jewett in his commentary in Hermeneia series. His commentary was published in 2007, and it is an important commentary on Romans. The Hermeneia series is very thick series, very critical in orientation and very good in background. Jewett argues that the main reason for Paul’s letter to the Romans is to prepare for his ministry in Spain, to get the Romans to assist him there. That is certainly part of the purpose, no doubt about that. One of the reasons Paul is writing to Rome is to see if they would help him in his new missionary endeavor in Spain. Spain is a long way away from Paul’s sending church in Antioch – again, think of the map of the Mediterranean – you have Antioch at one end, and Spain at the other. Paul is saying that he needs a church closer to his new planned ministry location, maybe even some translators to assist him that I don’t see any of these reasons as exclusives.

In addition, Paul also writes with a view toward encouraging and rebuking the Christians in Rome. If you think about the other letters of Paul, that is how they function. When Paul writes First Corinthians, for example, he is writing to a church that he helped found. He spent time there, over a year and a half; he knows the church, knows the people, and he has heard about the issues they are having with disobedience and the sinful issues that have arisen there. So, he writes to meet the needs of the congregation at that point in time. The Letter to the Romans is like that as well, Paul to some extent is writing with an understanding of what is going on in Rome and is writing to try to help meet the needs of the people there.

Paul did not found the church in Rome and had never even visited Rome. So, throughout Romans, you see Paul being very diplomatic. In chapter one, Paul talks about coming to share a spiritual gift to strengthen them and he hoped they would do the same for him as well. In 15:14 and following he says, I have written briefly, and I know that you already know all of this. This is very polite and diplomatic; Paul has to be careful about throwing his weight around with a church that he hasn’t founded and has no relationship with. Sometimes you have that typical circumstance of a fiery graduate of a master’s program who goes into a church with a vision of changing the church, I’m going to do the work here, rebuke these folks, get them on track, and they have all this zeal to do that. But we know what happens when a person jumps into a church without first establishing bonds of trust. This is a recipe for a very short pastorate. You have got to build trust with people, you have got to build relationships with people. So, Paul is aware of that and he’s trying to tread very carefully as he writes to the Romans.

Comment from student: I was really struck though by the lack of specificity to any issues in Rome.  It seemed as I was reading it, he could have written this to Illyricum or anywhere. There is nothing that says you are the Romans and therefore this is your problem, no needs are mentioned. 

Dr. Moo: There is one exception though, isn’t there?  What would be the exception?  In other words, you are absolutely right, there is a lot of the letter to the Romans that is very general. C.E.B Cranfield in his commentary talks about how much of the Letter to the Romans develops by the inner logic of the Gospel. There is however one exception where Paul hones in on an issue.

Comment from student: The friction between the Jewish and Gentile Christians?

Dr. Moo:  And where do we get that addressed specifically?

Comment from student:  In 9, 10, 11 and in chapters 14 and 15

Dr. Moo:  I think 14 and 15 especially here where Paul talks about the strong in faith and the weak in faith and he is rebuking both groups. In this, he seems to know the situation in Rome and there is a problem he is addressing.

One of Paul’s pastoral purposes in writing is probably to heal the split in the Roman congregation. Note that I use the word congregation rather than church.  Why? Because the Roman Christians seem to have been divided into at least five different house churches. Sometimes, when we are trying to envisage what the New Testament letters are trying to accomplish and how they are functioning. We need to sort of go back in our minds to that. We should not think in terms of two or three hundred people gathered in a building like we have today. Rather, we need to think in terms of twenty or twenty-five Christians sitting around in a living room. That is their church. The early Christians gathered for worship and prayer and encouragement in small groups in homes. We have fairly good evidence at this time in Rome that there were five or more house churches. It could be even possible in some of the house churches were moving in different theological directions. The issue in Romans 14 and 15 as Andrew was suggesting was pretty clearly the difference between mainly Jews on the one hand and the Gentiles on the other. There were Jews that were convinced that even though they were Christians, they were convinced that they still needed to observe some of the Mosaic Law, some of the practices of Judaism; whereas you have the Gentiles who thought that they didn’t need to do any of those things. That was for the old era and they were now in the new era; since Christ had come. So, you have this split not only along lines of ethnicity but also lines of theology. There were different understandings of what the coming of Christ meant for observing the Law, for instance. This was one of the biggest issues that the early church had to face. That is, how do we bring Jew and Gentile together in one body of Christ? What did the coming of Christ mean for observance of the Law? Was it still required, if so, what parts of it were required and what parts weren’t. These were very difficult issues for these early Christians to sort out. The answers weren’t immediate obvious. The debate about this point has left its mark throughout the New Testament. Galatians is another example where clearly that was the problem.

III. Theological Climate of Paul's Day

So, I’m already into my third point then.  There is a convergence between Paul’s own ministry, the needs of the Roman church, and the larger theological climate of Paul’s day; a convergence in all of those on this question of the relationship between the Jew and Gentile and Christ. How are we to understand the movement of salvation history? What is the place of Israel now that Christ has come? Now that the church has become increasingly a gentile place, what does that say about God’s promises and about the continuity between Old Testament and New Testament? This was the fundamental issue that the early church had to sort out. Remember that this was an era before we had a New Testament per se. This is a time when obviously the Old Testament was very oriented toward issues of Israel, the Law, the People, and the Land. What happens to all of that now that Christ has come? The Roman Christian Church was a microcosm of this as more and more Gentiles who responded to the Gospel and fewer Jews. This was a surprise; it was not what people expected. Jesus the Messiah has come; He is the Messiah for Israel and yes, maybe some gentiles can come in and experience that also. But obviously, Jesus was the Messiah, fulfilling the Old Testament promises to Israel and we would expect that this fulfillment would take a fundamentally Jewish form. But that isn’t what happened and so Paul is wrestling with this. Personally, he has had to wrestle with that over the years as he has dealt with Christians all over the world; and that is the issue in Rome. That is why a lot of the book of Romans focuses on the question of Jew and Gentile, Law and the Gospel, and Israel.