Epistle to the Romans
ROMANS, EPISTLE TO THE. The longest of the thirteen NT letters bearing the name of Paul and the first letter in the long-established order of the corpus Paulinum.
If one disregards those erratic schools of thought (e.g. the Dutch school of W. C. van Manen at the beginning of the 20th cent.) which have denied apostolic authorship to any of the documents in the corpus Paulinum, the Pauline authorship of Romans is uncontested. With Galatians and the two letters to the Corinthians, Romans belongs to the four “capital” epistles which are basic material for determining the main lines of Paul’s teaching. In one sense it is otiose to speak of the Pauline authorship of Romans and its three companion letters, since for most theological purposes “Paul” and “the author of Romans, Galatians, and 1 and 2 Corinthians” are synonymous terms.
In the opening salutation the addressees are denoted as “all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints” (
Christianity in Rome
There is no record of the planting of Christianity in Rome. The position of the city as the center of communications throughout the Rom. empire would insure that Christianity, once it was securely established in the eastern provinces, would reach the capital sooner rather than later. The mention of “visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes” (
The Jewish colony which existed in Rome as early as the 2nd cent. b.c., was greatly augmented from 63 b.c. onward, after Judea was incorporated into the Rom. empire; Cicero in 59 b.c. represented it as large, clannish, powerful, and influential. The city authorities from time to time tried to evict masses of undesirable immigrants, and occasionally the Jewish colony attracted their unfriendly attention in this regard. In a.d. 19, when Tiberius was emperor, there was a large-scale expulsion of Jews from Rome because of a financial scandal (Jos. Antiq. XVIII. iii. 5ff.); but in a decade or two they were back in larger numbers than ever. Claudius, at the beginning of his principate (a.d. 41), took some steps to restrict them (Dio Cassius, Hist. lx.6), but about eight years later he resorted to the more drastic course of expulsion. This expulsion, mentioned in
The expulsion under Claudius was no more durable than that under Tiberius. The edict may have been allowed to lapse with Claudius’ death (a.d. 54), if not earlier; a few years later the Jewish colony in Rome was as flourishing as ever, and as before it included Jewish believers in Jesus. By the time Paul wrote the letter to the Romans, not more than eight years after the edict of expulsion, the Christian community in the capital comprised a considerable Gentile element which prob. by that time outnumbered the Jewish membership. At any rate, Paul could assure his readers that their faith was “proclaimed in all the world” (
It may be that by the time this letter was written Christianity was beginning to make its way into the upper strata of Rom. society. In a.d. 57 the wife of Aulus Plautius (who had added Britain to the Rom. empire fourteen years before) was accused before a domestic court of having embraced a “foreign superstition” which, from the description of her way of life, might have been Christianity (Tac. Ann. xiii. 32). She was acquitted, and continued for the rest of her life to enjoy the esteem of her friends in spite of her retiring ways, which presented a sharp contrast to the social frivolity of many of her contemporaries. Some color is given to the view that her “foreign superstition” was Christianity by archeological evidence for the prevalence of Christianity in her family in the following cent.
By the time of the first great persecution of Rom. Christians, which broke out as the sequel to the fire of a.d. 64, they were so numerous that a pagan historian (Tac. Ann. xv. 44) and a Christian father ( , Ep. 6:1) both described the martyrs on that occasion as “a huge multitude.” The Rom. church survived the ordeal and continued to increase and enjoy the esteem of Christians throughout the world as a church “worthy of God, worthy of honour, worthy of praise, worthy of success, worthy in purity, pre-eminent in love, walking in the law of Christ and bearing the Father’s name” (Ignatius, To the Romans, preface).
Occasion, purpose and date
The writing of this letter is a milestone in the course of Paul’s ministry as apostle to the Gentiles. In
With the evangelization of the province of Asia, Paul had completed his program of missionary pioneering in Asia Minor and the Aegean world. The Gospel had been preached and churches had been planted in the principal cities and along the principal roads of Galatia, Asia, Macedonia, and Achaia. During the brief visit to the Balkan peninsula which followed his Ephesian ministry, Paul carried the Gospel farther W than he had previously done, at least as far as the border of Illyricum (
First, however, he determined to go to Jerusalem and give an account of his stewardship thus far—not to the church of Jerusalem or its leaders, for he denied that he had in any sense been commissioned by them, but to the risen Christ. One may ask why he should have thought it necessary to go to Jerusalem for this purpose; could he not have accomplished it in Ephesus or Corinth? Perhaps he could have done so; but a consideration of his reason may help to understand the place which Jerusalem held in Paul’s thinking. Although it was in Damascus that he first began to preach the Gospel, he describes the first stage of his mission as having been fulfilled “from Jerusalem and as far round as Illyricum” (
In addition to paving the way for his visit to Rome Paul hoped to secure the good will of the Rom. Christians to such an extent that they would provide him with a forward base for his Spanish mission—in the way, for example, that Syrian Antioch had served as a base for Barnabas and himself when they evangelized Cyprus and the cities of S Galatia. He knew that outside his own mission field (and even to some degree inside it) his reputation suffered from the criticisms of his opponents. Therefore he availed himself of the opportunity to place before the Rom. Christians a systematic statement of the Gospel as he understood and proclaimed it, and of his policy as apostle to the Gentiles. He does not impose his authority on these readers as he does when he writes to his own converts; yet he makes it plain that the authority by which he carries on his ministry is imparted to him by the risen Christ who called him to be His apostle. The Gospel expounded in this letter is recognizably “the Gospel according to Paul” as known from his other letters, and esp. from Galatians. Whereas Galatians was an urgent response to a critical situation in Paul’s mission field, Romans is a more dispassionate and orderly unfolding of the same theme to which Galatians is related “as the rough model to the finished statue” (J. B. Lightfoot, St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians , p. 49). A great deal of the present letter was therefore of general interest, and it is probable that from the first, at Paul’s own instance, copies of it were circulated to other churches as well as to that in Rome (see # VII below).
How well the letter accomplished its immediate purpose is uncertain; not for three years was Paul able to visit Rome, and when he came it was not as a free agent but as a prisoner under armed guard, to stand trial before Caesar to whose supreme court he had appealed from the jurisdiction of the procurator of Judaea. The reception of the letter may have had something to do with the welcome he received from some Rom. Christians as he approached their city along the
Paul expands the opening salutation (
The introduction to his argument
The foundation of Christian doctrine
Paul then envisages a bystander applauding this denunciation of pagan immorality and turns on him to assure him that he is in no better case (
Turning more directly to the Jew (
If this is so, someone may ask, is there any advantage in being a Jew? This quotation of a question or objection by someone breaking into his argument is a feature of the diatribe style of Gr. rhetoric, repeatedly used by Paul in this letter. Paul’s reply is that there is great advantage in belonging to the people to whom the oracles of God were committed, in order that they might be the instrument for the accomplishment of His purpose in the world. It is true that some of them proved unfaithful to their trust, but since God is God, no imperfection in the instrument can thwart His purpose. Nor can He be blamed for not foreseeing such imperfection: no lawsuit against God can ever succeed. Nor can those who have been unfaithful to their trust claim indulgence because their unfaithfulness has been overruled by God for His glory: the doing of evil that good may come is always to be condemned (
Despite the advantages inherited by Jews, their failure to treat these advantages responsibly means that before God they have no claim to favor over Gentiles. A catena of OT passages, establishing the sinfulness of all mankind, applies to Gentiles but in the first instance to Jews, since they were the people with whom the sacred writers were primarily concerned. The whole world is bound to plead guilty at God’s tribunal; no one can expect to be justified there on the ground of his works or his obedience to God’s law; the law which sets forth God’s will reveals in the event man’s inability to do that will (
Every attempt of man to establish his own righteousness before God being ruled out of court, the way is open for the introduction of God’s way of righteousness, and to this Paul devotes the crucially important passage which follows (
If this is God’s way of justifying men and women, it affords them no opportunity of taking any credit to themselves; it springs from His grace, not their merit. It is a way which is open on equal terms to Jew and Gentile, since God is the God of both; therefore neither has now any advantage over the other. Moreover, far from setting the law aside, it vindicates the law (
To show how the principle of justification by faith vindicates the law, Paul returned to the account of Abraham in Genesis (
Before developing the argument about Abraham, Paul looks at another OT use of the verb “reckon”: “Blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not reckon his sin” (
Reverting to Abraham (
Having thus demonstrated the Biblical foundation of the good news of justification by faith, Paul proceeds to describe the blessings which accompany it in the believer’s life (
Paul’s account of God’s way of righteousness concludes with a parallel drawn between the old humanity and the new (
If it be asked what place the law has in this concept, the answer is that it does not affect the great issue of death in Adam versus life in Christ; the law was introduced to bring to light the sin that was already latent. This it did, and at the same time it stimulated an increase in acts of sin; “but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (
From his exposition of the way of righteousness (
Baptism “into Christ Jesus” betokens incorporation into Him, so that henceforth the baptized person is “in Christ Jesus”; sharing Christ’s death he has died to the old way, and sharing His resurrection he lives in the new way. To live in sin would be, for such a person, a contradiction of his life in Christ; it would be repudiating his baptism, severing himself from Christ. As it is, the man he once was (the “old self” of
Sin, in other words, can be personified as a slave owner. The slave is forced to do his master’s bidding. If the slave dies, his master has no further power over him. The man in Christ has died as far as his relation to sin, his former slave-owner, is concerned. Or, to change the figure somewhat, if the slave becomes the property of another master, he is henceforth bound to obey his new master, not his old one. So the believer, formerly a slave of sin, has now been liberated into the free service of God. His former master paid him the wages of death; his new Master gives him life in Christ—not as a reward for service rendered, but as a free gift.
Law, which is good, nevertheless stimulates sin, which is bad. Law reveals and denounces sin but cannot bring deliverance from it. To be liberated from sin to righteousness is one side of a coin, the other is liberation from law to grace. From the subject of freedom from sin (
After this portrayal of the dawn of conscience, Paul continues in the present tense to describe the inner conflict experienced by one who approves the divine law and desires to keep it, but is prevented from doing so by “another law” which forces him against his will to do the evil that he loathes. “I of myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin” (
Such strength is available for all “who are in Christ Jesus” (
This coming glory (
With such a hope, the believer may well exult in God (
The righteousness of God in history
The first two answers he gives to the problem are these: 1. The Jewish resistance to the Gospel has come about in the unchallengeable ordering of God’s electing purpose (
To these Paul adds two more, much more hopeful in tone: 3. The fact that a “remnant” of Israel has believed the Gospel is the token that Israel as a whole will yet do so (
1. God’s sovereign choice (
To the complaint that God is unjust in acting thus, since no one can resist His decree, the uncompromising answer is given, following the precedent of OT prophets (cf.
What God in fact has done, says Paul, is to display His mercy in uncovenanted fashion, by calling as His people those who had no claim to be so designated (in accordance with a principle revealed in Hosea) and preserving only a remnant of His former people Israel (in accordance with a principle emphasized in Isaiah). So he concluded his first exposition of God’s way of election (
2. Israel’s responsibility (9:30-
With a further confession of his heartfelt longing and prayer for his kinsmen’s salvation, Paul ascribes their present unbelief and unenlightened zeal to their ignorance of God’s way of righteousness. They pursued the righteousness based on the law, in terms of
3. Israel’s alienation not final (
4. The parable of the olive tree (
God’s purpose for blessing mankind far exceeds anything that men could have hoped. If He has found all men, Jew and Gentile alike, guilty of disobedience and has pronounced this verdict on them, it is not that He may sentence them to the appropriate penalty, but “that he may have mercy upon all” (
The Christian way of life
This will manifest itself, among other things, in the common life of the Christian fellowship. The figure of the body and its limbs, already used in this way (
The life of the Spirit will manifest itself outwardly in acts of love to fellow members of the Christian brotherhood and to all men.
The passage about the Christian and the state (
Apart from his special duty to the powers that be, the Christian has the general duty of love to all men. He may be dead to the law in the sense of
The days are critical; Christians must be vigilant. Already coming events were casting their shadows before; with hindsight one can think of the persecution of a.d. 64 and the revolt of a.d. 66. However, Paul looked beyond intervening woes to the fullness of salvation which would attend the advent of Christ. In language reminiscent of the idiom of Qumran, he enjoins his readers to put on the “armour of light” in readiness for spiritual conflict and to live lives worthy of Christ. It is striking that, when he commends the cultivation of those virtues that grace the character of Christ in the gospels, he does so in the words, “put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” One recalls how Augustine’s conversion followed immediately upon his reading
So far so good; but Paul knew from his experience elsewhere that Christians with tender consciences were easily upset and likely to be tripped up in their spiritual progress. Those who had robust consciences like himself had a duty to consider their weaker fellow Christians. Paul would have refused to listen to any attempt to place limitations on his freedom, and warned his converts, as in Galatia and at Colosse, against listening to any such attempts directed toward themselves. But it was possible, while refusing legal restrictions, to accept voluntary limitations on one’s freedom of action in the interests of a brother “for whom Christ died.” Such a spontaneous gesture of Christian charity would be in fact one way of exercising Christian liberty. The truly emancipated man is not in bondage to his emancipation: he can choose to indulge and he can choose to refrain. His choice will be determined by the Lord’s glory and the spiritual welfare of others. If a more scrupulous Christian is encouraged by the example of one with a more robust conscience to do something of which his own conscience disapproves, his conscience is damaged by his doing so, and the damage will be debited by the Lord to his insufficiently considerate fellow Christian.
It is the privilege of the strong to help the weak and be patient with them; the example of Christ is sufficient argument. Instead of living for His own interests, He lived for others and endured reproach for His Father’s sake, as OT Scripture had foretold (
Continuing the theme of the example of Christ (15:7-13), he stated that Christ became a servant to Jews and Gentiles alike—to the former, to fulfill the promises made to the patriarchs, and to the latter, that they too “might glorify God for his mercy” (v. 9). There follows a catena of OT Scriptures, drawn from all three divisions of the Heb. Bible (Law, Prophets, and Psalms), showing that the Gentile mission was foretold in them. (The means by which the Gentiles’ ingathering would be accomplished, by their incorporation as fellow members of the body of Christ on an equal footing with Jewish believers, was a “mystery” first revealed in NT times, but the fact of their ingathering had been predicted.) With a benediction echoing the wording of the final quotation Paul closes this division of the letter.
Phoebe, a “deaconess” of the church at Cenchreae (the eastern seaport of Corinth), will carry the letter to its destination; Paul commends her to his readers’ fellowship (
He then sends greetings to a number of his friends. Although Paul had not previously visited Rome, it was not surprising that there were many people there whom he had met elsewhere during his journeys; indeed, precedent suggests that he was more apt to send individual greetings of this kind in a letter to a church with which he was not acquainted at first hand, than to one where he knew practically everybody, so that if he singled out a few for special mention, others would ask, “Why leave me out?” The mention of Epaenetus, his first convert in the province of Asia (
The exhortation of
Paul has already sent greetings from the Gentile churches (
The doxology of
There are two sets of textual problems in Romans which require special attention, one at the beginning and the other at the end. Apart from these, the text of the letter is reasonably straightforward, although F. G. Kenyon concluded from the pattern of agreement and disagreement in the various Pauline epistles between P46 and the other early witnesses to the text that the textual tradition of Romans might go back to a time before the publication of the corpus Paulinum, when the letters circulated separately. (If copies were in fact sent to various churches to begin with, the history of texual variation could have started in a.d. 57.)
The omission of the words “in Rome” from
At the end of the letter indications of three distinct editions are provided by the varying position of the final doxology in the authorities for the text. In P46, the oldest Pauline MS (end of 2nd cent.), it is placed at the end of
There is, however, much more abundant evidence for an even shorter edition of the letter which terminated at the end of
In this respect, as in several others, Marcion’s text of the Pauline letters appears to have influenced the transmission of their text in circles which were far from subscribing to Marcionite views. Why Marcion should have brought the text of Romans to an end with
The omission of “in Rome” in
Although Marcion’s text did not include the doxology at the end, it was added to his text later, possibly from the long edition.
There remain some unresolved problems, but the conclusion in general is that there were in antiquity three recensions of the letter: (1) the long recension, including the personal greetings and the doxology, which was prob. the recension found in the first ed. of the corpus Paulinum; (2) a shorter recension, lacking the personal greetings, derived from an early copy sent to another church than that primarily addressed (P46 would in this case preserve a textual tradition antedating the publication of the first corpus Paulinum); and (3) a still shorter recension, lacking
Canonicity and authority
The canonicity of Romans was never an issue in the Church. From the earliest beginnings of the formation of the NT canon its place within it has been secure, both among heretical groups like the Valentinians and Marcionites, and in the Catholic Church.
Behind canonicity lies intrinsic authority, and in this regard the record of Romans is impressive. Time and again in the course of Christian history it has liberated the minds of men, brought them back to an understanding of the essential Gospel of Christ, and started spiritual revolutions. One has only to think of the part played by the letter in the careers of men like Augustine, Luther,, and , and in the movements associated with their names, to appreciate its enduring evangelical dynamism.
R. Haldane, Exposition of Romans (1835-1839; reprinted, 1959); C. Hodge, Commentary on Romans (1835; reprinted, 1951); C. J. Vaughan, St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans (1874); F. Godet, The Epistle to the Romans (1880; reprinted 1956); H. C. G. Moule, The Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans, ExB (1893); H. P. Liddon, Explanatory Analysis of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans (1893); F. J. A. Hort, Prolegomena to Romans and Ephesians (1895); J. Denney, St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, EGT (1900); W. Sanday and A. C. Headlam, Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, ICC (1902); C. H. Dodd, The Epistle of Paul to the Romans, MNT (1932); K. Barth, The Epistle to the Romans (1933); A. Nygren, Commentary on Romans (1952); O. Michel, Römerbrief, Meyer (1955); A. M. Hunter, The Epistle to the Romans (1955); C. K. Barrett, The Epistle to the Romans (1957); J. Murray, The Epistle to the Romans, NICNT (1959-1965); E. Brunner, The Epistle to the Romans (1959); M. Luther, Lectures on Romans, trans. W. Pauck (1961); F. J. Leenhardt, The Epistle to the Romans (1961); J. Calvin, The Epistles of Paul to the Romans and Thessalonians, trans. R. Mackenzie (1961); T. W. Manson, Studies in the Gospels and Epistles (1962), 225-241; T. W. Manson, “Romans” in Peake’s Commentary on the Bible, ed. M. Black (1962), 940-953; F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Romans (1963).
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
|| 1. Its Genuineness
2. Its Integrity
3. The Approximate Date
4. The Place of Writing
5. The Destination
6. The Language
7. The Occasion
8. Some Characteristics
9. Main Teachings of the Epistle
(1) Doctrine of Man
(2) Doctrine of God
(3) Doctrine of--Redemption; Justification
(4) Doctrine of the Spirit of God
(5) Doctrine of Duty
(6) Doctrine of Israel
This is the greatest, in every sense, of the apostolic letters of Paul; in scale, in scope, and in its wonderful combination of doctrinal, ethical and administrative wisdom and power. In some respects the later Epistles, Ephesians and Colossians, lead us to even higher and deeper arcana of revelation, and they, like Romans, combine with the exposition of truth a luminous doctrine of duty. But the range of Roman is larger in both directions, and presents us also with noble and far-reaching discussions of Christian polity, instructions in spiritual utterance and the like, to which those Epistles present no parallel, and which only the Corinthian Epistles rival.
1. Its Genuineness:
No suspicion on the head of the genuineness of the Epistle exists which needs serious consideration. Signs of the influence of the Epistle can be traced, at least very probably, in the
2. Its Integrity:
The question remains, however, whether, accepting the Epistle in block as Pauline, we have it, as to details, just as it left the author’s hands. Particularly, some phenomena of the text of the last two chapter invite the inquiry. We may--in our opinion we must--grant those chapters to be Pauline. They breathe Paul in every sentence. But do they read precisely like part of a letter to Rome? For example, we have a series of names (
Lightfoot has brought it out in an interesting way (see his Philippians, on 4:22) that many of the names (e.g. Amplias, Urbanus, Tryphena) in
Two points of detail in the criticism of the text of Romans may be noted. One is that the words "at Rome" (1:7,15) are omitted in a very few manuscripts, in a way to remind us of the interesting phenomenon of the omission of "at Ephesus" (
The other and larger detail is that the great final doxology (
It is worth noting that Hort, a singularly fearless, while sober student, defends without reserve the entirety of the Epistle as we have it, or practically so. See his essay printed in Lightfoot’s Biblical Studies.
3. The Approximate Date:
We can fix the approximate date with fair certainty within reasonable limits. We gather from
"The reader’s attention is invited to this date. Broadly speaking, it was about 30 years at the most after the Crucifixion. Let anyone in middle life reflect on the freshness in memory of events, whether public or private, which 30 years ago made any marked impression on his mind. Let him consider how concrete and vivid still are the prominent personages of 30 years ago, many of whom of course are still with us. And let him transfer this thought to the 1st century, and to the time of our Epistle. Let him remember that we have at least this one great Christian writing composed, for certain, within such easy reach of the very lifetime ofwhen His contemporary friends were still, in numbers, alive and active. Then let him open the Epistle afresh, and read, as if for the first time, its estimate of Jesus Christ--a Figure then of no legendary past, with its halo, but of the all but present day. Let him note that this transcendent estimate comes to us conveyed in the vehicle not of poetry and rhetoric, but of a treatise pregnant with masterly argument and admirable practical wisdom, tolerant and comprehensive. And we think that the reader will feel that the result of his meditations on date and circumstances is reassuring as to the solidity of the historic basis of the Christian faith" (from the present writer’s introduction to the Epistle in the Temple Bible; see also his Light from the First Days: Short Studies in 1 Thessalonians).
4. The Place of Writing:
With confidence we may name Corinth as the place of writing. Paul was at the time in some "city" (
5. The Destination:
The first advent of Christianity to Rome is unrecorded, and we know very little of its early progress. Visiting Romans (epidemountes), both Jews and proselytes, appear at Pentecost (
As to Rome itself, we may picture it at the date of the Epistle as containing, with its suburbs, a closely massed population of perhaps 800,000 people; a motley host of many races, with a strong oriental element, among which the Jews were present as a marked influence, despised and sometimes dreaded, but always attracting curiosity.
6. The Language:
The Epistle was written in Greek, the "common dialect," the Greek of universal intercourse of that age. One naturally asks, why not in Latin, when the message was addressed to the supreme Latin city? The large majority of Christian converts beyond doubt came from the lower middle and lowest classes, not least from the slave class. These strata of society were supplied greatly from immigrants, much as in parts of East London now aliens make the main population. Not Latin but Greek, then lingua franca of the Mediterranean, would be the daily speech of these people. It is remarkable that all the early Roman bishops bear Greek names. And some 40 years after the date of this Epistle we find Clement of Rome writing in Greek to the Corinthians, and later again, early in the 2nd century, Ignatius writing in Greek to the Romans.
7. The Occasion:
We cannot specify the occasion of writing for certain. No hint appears of any acute crisis in the mission (as when 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, or Colossians were written). Nor would personal reminiscences influence the writer, for he had not yet seen Rome. We can only suggest some possibilities as follows:
(1) A good opportunity for safe communication was offered by the deaconess Phoebe’s proposed visit to the metropolis. She doubtless asked Paul for a commendatory letter, and this may have suggested an extended message to the church.
(2) Paul’s thoughts had long gone toward Rome. See
(3) The form of the Epistle may throw further light on the occasion. The document falls, on the whole, into three parts. First we have Romans 1-8 inclusive, a prolonged exposition of the contrasted and related phenomena of sin and salvation, with special initial references to the cases of Jew and non-Jew respectively. Then come Romans 9-11, which deal with the Jewish rejection of the Jewish Messiah, developing into a prophetic revelation of the future of Israel in the grace of God. Lastly we have Romans 12-16. Some account of the writer’s plans, and his salutations to friends, requests for prayer, etc., form the close of this section. But it is mainly a statement of Christian duty in common life, personal, civil, religious. Under the latter head we have a noble treatment of problems raised by varying opinions, particularly on religious observances, among the converts, Jew and Gentile.
Such phenomena cast a possible light on the occasion of writing. The Roman mission was on one side, by its locality and surroundings, eminently gentile. On the other, there was, as we have seen, a strong Judaic element in Roman life, particularly in its lower strata, and no doubt around the Jewish community proper there had grown up a large community of "worshippers" (sebomenoi) or, as we commonly call them, "proselytes" ("adherents," in the language of modern missionary enterprise), people who, without receiving circumcision, attended Jewish worship and shared largely in Jewish beliefs and ideals. Among these proselytes, we may believe, the earliest evangelists at Rome found a favorable field, and the mission church as Paul knew of it contained accordingly not only two definite classes, converts from paganism, converts from native Judaism, but very many in whose minds both traditions were working at once. To such converts the problems raised by Judaism, both without and within the church, would come home with a constant intimacy and force, and their case may well have been present in a special degree in the apostle’s mind alike in the early passages (Romans 1-3) of the Epistle and in such later parts as Romans 2-11; 14; 15. On the one hand they would greatly need guidance on the significance of the past of Israel and on the destiny of the chosen race in the future. Moreover, discussions in such circles over the way of salvation would suggest to the great missionary his exposition of man’s reconciliation with a holy God and of His secrets for purity and obedience in an unholy world. And meanwhile the ever-recurring problems raised by ceremonial rules in common daily life--problems of days and seasons, and of forbidden food--would, for such disciples, need wise and equitable treatment.
(4) Was it not with this position before him, known to him through the many means of communication between Rome and Corinth, that Paul cast his letter into this form? And did not the realization of the central greatness of Rome suggest its ample scale? The result was a writing which shows everywhere his sense of the presence of the Judaic problem. Here he meets it by a statement, massive and tender, of "heaven’s easy, artless, unencumbered plan" of redemption, grace, and glory, a plan which on its other side is the very mystery of the love of God, which statement is now and forever a primary treasure of the Christian faith. And then again he lays down for the too eager champions of the new "liberty" a law of loving tolerance toward slower and narrower views which is equally our permanent spiritual possession, bearing a significance far-reaching and benign.
(5) It has been held by some great students, notably Lightfoot and Hort, that the main purpose of Romans was to reconcile the opposing "schools" in the church, and that its exposition of the salvation of the individual is secondary only. The present writer cannot take this view. Read the Epistle from its spiritual center, so to speak, and is not the perspective very different? The apostle is always conscious of the collective aspect of the Christian life, an aspect vital to its full health. But is he not giving his deepest thought, animated by his own experience of conviction and conversion, to the sinful man’s relation to eternal law, to redeeming grace, and to a coming glory? It is the question of personal salvation which with Paul seems to us to live and move always in the depth of his argument, even when Christian polity and policy is the immediate theme.
8. Some Characteristics:
Excepting only Ephesians (the problem of the authorship of which is insoluble, and we put that great document here aside), Romans is, of all Paul has written, least a letter and most a treatise. He is seen, as we read, to approach religious problems of the highest order in a free but reasoned succession; problems of the darkness and of the light, of sin and grace, fall and restoration, doom and remission, faith and obedience, suffering and glory, transcendent hope and humblest duty, now in their relation to the soul, now so as to develop the holy collectivity of the common life. The Roman converts are always first in view, but such is the writer, such his handling, that the results are for the universal church and for every believer of all time. Yet all the while (and it is in this a splendid example of that epistolary method of revelation which is one of the glories of the New Testament) it is never for a moment the mere treatise, however great. The writer is always vividly personal, and conscious of persons. The Epistle is indeed a masterpiece of doctrine, but also always "the unforced, unartificial utterance of a friend to friends."
9. Main Teachings of the Epistle:
Approaching the Epistle as a treatise rather than a letter (with the considerable reserves just stated), we indicate briefly some of its main doctrinal deliverances. Obviously, in limine, it is not set before us as a complete system either of theology or of morals; to obtain a full view of a Pauline dogma and ethics we must certainly place Ephesians and Colossians, not to speak of passages from Thessalonians, beside Romans. But it makes by far the nearest approach to doctrinal completeness among the Epistles.
(1) Doctrine of Man.
In great measure this resolves itself into the doctrine of man as a sinner, as being guilty in face of an absolutely holy and absolutely imperative law, whether announced by abnormal revelation, as to the Jew, or through nature and conscience only, as to the Gentile. At the back of this presentation lies the full recognition that man is cognizant, as a spiritual being, of the eternal difference of right and wrong, and of the witness of creation to personal "eternal power and Godhead" as its cause, and that he is responsible in an awe-inspiring way for his unfaithfulness to such cognitions. He is a being great enough to be in personal moral relation with God, and able to realize his ideal only in true relation with Him; therefore a being whose sin and guilt have an unfathomable evil in them. So is he bound by his own failure that he cannot restore himself; God alone, in sovereign mercy, provides for his pardon by the propitiation of Christ, and for his restoration by union with Christ in the life given by the. Such is man, once restored, once become "a saint" (a being hallowed), a "son of God" by adoption and grace, that his final glorification will be the signal (in some sense the cause?) of a transfiguration of the whole finite universe. Meanwhile, man is a being actually in the midst of a life of duty and trial, a member of civil society, with obligations to its order. He lives not in a God-forsaken world, belonging only to another and evil power. His new life, the "mind of the Spirit" in him, is to show itself in a conduct and character good for the state and for society at large, as well as for the "brotherhood."
(2) Doctrine of God.
True to the revelation of the, Paul presents God as absolute in will and power, so that He is not only the sole author of nature but the eternal and ultimately sole cause of goodness in man. To Him in the last resort all is due, not only the provision of atonement but the power and will to embrace it. The great passages which set before us a "fore-defining" (proorisis, "predestination") and election of the saints are all evidently inspired by this motive, the jealous resolve to trace to the one true Cause all motions and actions of good. The apostle seems e.g. almost to risk affirming a sovereign causation of the opposite, of unbelief and its sequel. But patient study will find that it is not so. God is not said to "fit for ruin" the "vessels of wrath." Their woeful end is overruled to His glory, but nowhere is it taken to be caused by Him. All along the writer’s intense purpose is to constrain the actual believer to see the whole causation of his salvation in the will and power of Him whose inmost character is revealed in the supreme fact that, "for us all," "he spared not his Son."
(3) Doctrine of Son of God--Redemption; Justification.
The Epistle affords materials for a magnificently large Christology. The relation of the Son to creation is indeed not expounded in terms (as in Col), but it is implied in the language of Romans 8, where the interrelation of our redemption and the transfiguration of Nature is dealt with. We have the Lord’s manhood fully recognized, while His Godhead (as we read in 9:5; so too Robertson, ut supra) is stated in terms, and it is most certainly implied in the language and tone of e.g. the close of Romans 8. Who but a bearer of the Supreme Nature could satisfy the conception indicated in such words as those of 8:32,35-39, coming as they do from a Hebrew monotheist of intense convictions? Meantime this transcendent Person has so put Himself in relation with us, as the willing worker of the Father’s purpose of love, that He is the sacrifice of peace for us (Romans 3), our "propitiatory" One (hilasterion, is now known to be an adjective), such that (whatever the mystery, which leaves the fact no less certain) the man who believes on Him, i.e. (as Romans 4 fully demonstrates) relies on Him, gives himself over to His mercy, is not only forgiven but "justified," "justified by faith." And "justification" is more than forgiveness; it is not merely the remission of a penalty but a welcome to the offender, pronounced to be lawfully at peace with the eternal holiness and love.
In closest connection with this message of justification is the teaching regarding union with the Christ who has procured the justification. This is rather assumed than expounded in Romans (we have the exposition more explicitly in Eph, Col, and Gal), but the assumption is present wherever the pregnant phrase "in Christ" is used. Union is, for Paul, the central doctrine of all, giving life and relation to the whole range. As Lightfoot has well said (Sermons in Paul’s, number 16), he is the apostle not primarily of justification, or of liberty, great as these truths are with him, but of union with Christ. It is through union that justification is ours; the merits of the Head are for the member. It is through union that spiritual liberty and power are ours; the Spirit of life is from the Head to the member. Held by grace in this profound and multiplex connection, where life, love and law are interlaced, the Christian is entitled to an assurance full of joy that nothing shall separate him, soul and (ultimately) body, from his once sacrificed and now risen and triumphant Lord.
(4) Doctrine of the Spirit of God.
No writing of the New Testament but John’s Gospel is so full upon this great theme as Romans 8 may be said to be the locus classicus in the Epistles for the work of thein the believer. By implication it reveals personality as well as power (see especially 8:26). Note particularly the place of this great passage, in which revelation and profoundest conditions run continually into each other. It follows Romans 7, in which the apostle depicts, in terms of his own profound and typical experience, the struggles of conscience and will over the awful problem of the "bondage" of indwelling sin. If we interpret the passage aright, the case supposed is that of a regenerate man, who, however, attempts the struggle against inward evil armed, as to consciousness, with his own faculties merely, and finds the struggle insupportable. Then comes in the divine solution, the promised Spirit of life and liberty, welcomed and put into use by the man who has found his own resources yam. "In Christ Jesus," in union with Him, he "by the Spirit does to death the practices of the body," and rises through conscious liberty into an exulting hope of "the liberty of the glory of the sons of God"--not so, however as to know nothing of "groaning within himself," while yet in the body; but it is a groan which leaves intact the sense of sonship and divine love, and the expectation of a final completeness of redemption.
(5) Doctrine of Duty.
While the Epistle is eminently a message of salvation, it is also, in vital connection with this, a treasury of principle and precept for the life of duty. It does indeed lay down the sovereign freedom of our acceptance for Christ’s sake alone, and so absolutely that (
(6) Doctrine of Israel.
Very briefly we touch on this department of the message of Romans, mainly to point out that the problem of Israel’s unbelief nowhere else in Paul appears as so heavy a load on his heart, and that on the other hand we nowhere else have anything like the light he claims to throw (Romans 11) on Israel’s future. Here, if anywhere, he appears as the predictive prophet, charged with the statement of a "mystery," and with the announcement of its issues. The promises to Israel have never failed, nor are they canceled. At the worst, they have always been inherited by a chosen remnant, Israel within Israel. And a time is coming when, in a profound connection with Messianic blessing on the Gentiles, "all Israel shall be saved," with a salvation which shall in turn be new life to the world outside Israel. Throughout the passage Paul speaks, not as one who "will not give up a hope," but as having had revealed to him a vast and definite prospect, in the divine purpose.
It is not possible in our present space to work out other lines of the message of Romans. Perhaps enough has been done to stimulate the reader’s own inquiries.
Of the Fathers, Chrysostom and Augustine are pre-eminent as interpreters of Romans: Chrysostom in his expository Homilies, models of eloquent and illuminating discourse, full of "sanctified common sense," while not perfectly appreciative of the inmost doctrinal characteristics; Augustine, not in any continuous comm., but in his anti-Pelagian writings, which show the sympathetic intensity of his study of the doctrine of the Epistle, not so much on justification as on grace and the will. Of the Reformers, Calvin is eminently the great commentator, almost modern in his constant aim to ascertain the sacred writer’s meaning by open-eyed inference direct from the words. On Romans he is at his best; and it is remarkable that on certain leading passages where grace is theme he is much less rigidly "Calvinistic" than some of his followers. In modern times, the not learned but masterly exposition of(circa 1830) claims mention, and the eloquent and highly suggestive expository lectures (about the same date) of . H. A. W. Meyer (5th edition, 1872, English translation 1873-1874) among the Germans is excellent for carefulness and insight; Godet (1879, English translation 1881) equally so among French-writing divines; of late English interpreters I. A. Beet (1877, many revisions), Sanday and Headlam (1895, in the" International" series) and E. H. Gifford (admirable for scholarship and exposition; his work was printed first in the Speaker’s (Bible) Comm., 1881, now separately) claim particular mention. J. Denney writes on Romans in The Expositor’s Greek Test. (1900).
Luther’s lectures on Romans, delivered in 1516-1517 and long supposed lost, have been recovered and were published by J. Ficker in 1908. Among modern German commentators, the most important is B. Weiss in the later revisions of the Meyer series (9th edition, 1899), while a very elaborate commentary has been produced by Zahn in his own series (1910). Briefer are the works of Lipsius (Hand-Kommentar, 2nd edition, 1892, very scholarly and suggestive); Lietzmann (Handbuch zum N T, interest chiefly linguistic), and Julicher (in J. Weiss, Schriften des NTs, 2nd edition, 1908, an intensely able piece of popular exposition).
A. E. Garvie has written a brilliant little commentary in the "(New) Century" series (no date); that of R. John Parry in the Cambridge Greek Testament, 1913, is more popular, despite its use of the Greek text. F. B. Westcott’s Paul and Justification, 1913, contains a close grammatical study with an excellent paraphrase.
The writer may be allowed to name his short commentary (1879) in the Cambridge Bible for Schools and a fuller one, in a more homiletic style, in the Expositor’s Bible, 1894.