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The Epistle to the Romans, often shortened to Romans, is the sixth book in the New Testament. Biblical scholars agree that it was composed by the Apostle Paul to explain that salvation is offered through the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the longest of the Pauline epistles and is considered his "most important theological legacy".
In the opinion of Jesuit scholar Joseph Fitzmyer, the book, "overwhelms the reader by the density and sublimity of the topic with which it deals, the gospel of the justification and salvation of Jew and Greek alike by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ, revealing the uprightness and love of God the Father."
N. T. Wright notes that Romans is
...neither a systematic theology nor a summary of Paul's lifework, but it is by common consent his masterpiece. It dwarfs most of his other writings, an Alpine peak towering over hills and villages. Not all onlookers have viewed it in the same light or from the same angle, and their snapshots and paintings of it are sometimes remarkably unalike. Not all climbers have taken the same route up its sheer sides, and there is frequent disagreement on the best approach. What nobody doubts is that we are here dealing with a work of massive substance, presenting a formidable intellectual challenge while offering a breathtaking theological and spiritual vision.
The scholarly consensus is that Paul authored the Epistle to the Romans.
C. E. B. Cranfield, in the introduction to his commentary on Romans, says:
The denial of Paul's authorship of Romans by such critics... is now rightly relegated to a place among the curiosities of NT scholarship. Today no responsible criticism disputes its Pauline origin. The evidence of its use in the Apostolic Fathers is clear, and before the end of the second century it is listed and cited as Paul's. Every extant early list of NT books includes it among his letters. The external evidence of authenticity could indeed hardly be stronger; and it is altogether borne out by the internal evidence, linguistic, stylistic, literary, historical and theological.
The letter was most probably written while Paul was in Corinth, and probably while he was staying in the house of Gaius and transcribed by Tertius his amanuensis. There are a number of reasons Corinth is most plausible. Paul was about to travel to Jerusalem on writing the letter, which matches Acts[Acts 20:3] where it is reported that Paul stayed for three months in Greece. This probably implies Corinth as it was the location of Paul’s greatest missionary success in Greece. Additionally Phoebe was a deacon of the church in Cenchreae, a port to the east of Corinth, and would have been able to convey the letter to Rome after passing through Corinth and taking a ship from Corinth’s west port. Erastus, mentioned in Romans 16:23, also lived in Corinth being the city's commissioner for public works and city treasurer at various times, again indicating that the letter was written in Corinth.
The precise time at which it was written is not mentioned in the epistle, but it was obviously written when the collection for Jerusalem had been assembled and Paul was about to "go unto Jerusalem to minister unto the saints", that is, at the close of his second visit to Greece, during the winter preceding his last visit to that city. The majority of scholars writing on Romans propose the letter was written in late 55/early 56 or late 56/early 57. Early 58 and early 55 both have some support, while German New Testament scholar Gerd Lüdemann argues for a date as early as 51/52 (or 54/55) following on from Knox who proposed 53/54. Lüdemann is the only serious challenge to the consensus of mid to late 50s.
Some manuscripts have a subscription at the end of the Epistle:
For ten years before writing the letter (approx. 47–57), Paul had traveled around the territories bordering the Aegean Sea evangelizing. Churches had been planted in the Roman provinces of Galatia, Macedonia, Achaia and Asia. Paul, considering his task complete, wanted to preach the gospel in Spain, where he would not "build upon another man’s foundation".[Rom 15:20] This allowed him to visit Rome on the way, a long time ambition of his. The letter to the Romans, in part, prepares them and gives reasons for his visit.
In addition to Paul’s geographic location, his religious views are important. First, Paul was a Hellenistic Jew with a Pharisaic background (see Gamaliel), integral to his identity, see Paul the Apostle and Judaism for details. His concern for his people is one part of the dialogue and runs throughout the letter. Second, the other side of the dialogue is Paul’s conversion and calling to follow Christ in the early 30s.
It is established that there were Jews living in Rome in the times of the Apostles, and that those Jews who had believed [in Christ] passed on to the Romans the tradition that they ought to profess Christ but keep the law [Torah] ... One ought not to condemn the Romans, but to praise their faith, because without seeing any signs or miracles and without seeing any of the apostles, they nevertheless accepted faith in Christ, although according to a Jewish rite.
From Adam Clarke:
The occasion of writing the epistle: ... Paul had made acquaintance with all circumstances of the Christians at Rome ... and finding that it was ... partly of heathens converted to Christianity, and partly of Jews, who had, with many remaining prejudices, believed in Jesus as the true Messiah, and that many contentions arose from the claims of the Gentiles to equal privileges with the Jews, and from absolute refusal of the Jews to admit these claims, unless the Gentile converts become circumcised; he wrote this epistle to adjust and settle these differences.
At this time, the Jews made up a substantial number in Rome, and their synagogues, frequented by many, enabled the Gentiles to become acquainted with the story of Jesus of Nazareth. Consequently, churches composed of both Jews and Gentiles were formed at Rome. According to Irenaeus, a 2nd-century Church Father, the church at Rome was founded directly by the apostles Peter and Paul. However, many modern scholars disagree with Irenaeus, holding that while little is known of the circumstances of the church's founding, it was not founded by Paul:
Many of the brethren went out to meet Paul on his approach to Rome. There is evidence that Christians were then in Rome in considerable numbers and probably had more than one place of meeting.—Easton's Bible Dictionary
Note the large number of names in Romans 16:3–15 of those then in Rome, and verses 5, 15 and 16 indicate there was more than one church assembly or company of believers in Rome. Verse 5 mentions a church that met in the house of Aquila and Priscilla. Verses 14 and 15 each mention groupings of brethren and saints.
Jews were expelled from Rome because of disturbances around AD 49 by the edict of Claudius. Fitzmyer claims that both Jews and Jewish Christians were expelled as a result of their infighting. Claudius died around the year AD 54, and his successor, Emperor Nero, allowed the Jews back into Rome, but then, after the Great Fire of Rome of 64, Christians were persecuted. Fitzmyer argues that with the return of the Jews to Rome in 54 new conflict arose between the Gentile Christians and the Jewish Christians who had formerly been expelled. Keck thinks Gentile Christians may have developed a dislike of or looked down on Jews (see also Antisemitism and Responsibility for the death of Jesus), because they theologically rationalized that Jews were no longer God's people.
While scholars are often able to determine aspects of the context of NT writers from their letters, it is much more difficult to understand Paul's letter to the Romans. Scholars often have difficulty assessing whether Romans is a letter or an epistle:
A letter is something non-literary, a means of communication between persons who are separated from each other. Confidential and personal in nature, it is intended only for the person or persons to whom it is addressed, and not at all for the public or any kind of publicity...An Epistle is an artistic literary form, just like the dialogue, the oration, or the drama. It has nothing in common with the letter except its form: apart from that one might venture the paradox that the epistle is the opposite of a real letter. The contents of the epistle are intended for publicity—they aim at interesting "the public."
Joseph Fitzmyer argues, from evidence put forth by Stirewalt, that the style of Romans is an "essay-letter." Philip Melanchthon, a writer during the Reformation, suggested that Romans was caput et summa universae doctrinae christianae ("a summary of all Christian doctrine"). While some scholars attempt to suggest, like Melanchthon, that it is a type of theological treatise, this view largely ignores chapters 14 and 15 of Romans. There are also many "noteworthy elements" missing from Romans that are included in other areas of the Pauline corpus. The breakdown of Romans as a treatise began with F.C. Baur in 1836 when he suggested "this letter had to be interpreted according to the historical circumstances in which Paul wrote it."
Paul sometimes uses a style of writing common in his time called a "diatribe". He appears to be responding to a "heckler", and the letter is structured as a series of arguments. In the flow of the letter, Paul shifts his arguments, sometimes addressing the Jewish members of the church, sometimes the Gentile membership and sometimes the church as a whole.
The main purpose of the epistle to the Romans is given by Paul in Romans 1:1, where he reveals that he is set apart by God for the purpose of preaching the Gospel, which he explains. He wishes to impart to the Roman readers a gift of encouragement and assurance in all that God has freely given them (see Romans 1:11–12; 1 Corinthians 2:12).
To review the current scholarly viewpoints on the purpose of Romans, along with a bibliography, see Dictionary of Paul and His Letters. For a 16th-century "Lollard" reformer view, reference can be made to the work of William Tyndale. In his prologue to his translation of the book of Romans, which was largely taken from the prologue of German Reformer Martin Luther, Tyndale writes that:
... this epistle is the principal and most excellent part of the new testament, and most pure evangelion, that is to say glad tidings and what we call the gospel, and also a light and a way in unto the whole scripture ... The sum and whole cause of the writings of this epistle, is, to prove that a man is justified by faith only: which proposition whoso denieth, to him is not only this epistle and all that Paul writeth, but also the whole scripture, so locked up that he shall never understand it to his soul's health. And to bring a man to the understanding and feeling that faith only justifieth, Paul proveth that the whole nature of man is so poisoned and so corrupt, yea and so dead concerning godly living or godly thinking, that it is impossible for her to keep the law in the sight of God.
This essay-letter composed by Paul was written to a specific audience at a specific time; to understand it, the situations of both Paul and the recipients must be understood.
The introduction[Rom 1:1–16] provides some general notes about Paul. He introduces his apostleship here and introductory notes about the gospel he wishes to preach to the church at Rome. Jesus' human line stems from David.[1:3] Paul, however, does not limit his ministry to Jews. Paul's goal is that the Gentiles would also hear the gospel.[1:5]
Paul's announcement that he is not "ashamed" (epaiscúnomai) of his gospel because it holds power (dúnamis). These two verses form a backdrop for the rest of the book. First, we note that Paul is unashamed of his love for this gospel that he preaches about Jesus Christ. He also notes that he is speaking to the "Jew first."[1:16] There is significance to this, but much of it is scholarly conjecture as the relationship of Paul the Apostle and Judaism is still debated. We are hard-pressed to find an answer to such a question without knowing more about the audience in question. Wayne Brindle argues, based on Paul's former writings against the Judaizers in Galatians and 2 Corinthians, that rumors had probably spread about Paul totally negating the Jewish existence in a Christian world, see also Antinomianism in the New Testament and Supersessionism. Paul may have used the "Jew first" approach to counter such a view.
Paul now begins into the main thrust of his letter. He begins by suggesting that humans have taken up ungodliness and wickedness for which there will be wrath from God.[1:18] People have taken God's invisible image and made him into an idol. Paul draws heavily here from the Wisdom of Solomon. He condemns unnatural sexual behavior and warns that such behavior will result in a depraved body and mind[1:26–27] and says that people who do such things (including murder and wickedness [1:29]) are worthy of death.[1:32] Paul stands firmly against the idol worship system which was common in Rome.
On the traditional Protestant interpretation, Paul here calls out Jews who are condemning others for not following the law when they themselves are also not following the law. Stanley Stowers, however, has argued on rhetorical grounds that Paul is in these verses not addressing a Jew at all but rather an easily recognizable caricature of the typical boastful person (ὁ ἀλαζων). Stowers writes, "There is absolutely no justification for reading as Paul's attack on 'the hypocrisy of the Jew.' No one in the first century would have identified ho alazon with Judaism. That popular interpretation depends upon anachronistically reading later Christian characterizations of Jews as 'hypocritical Pharisees'". See also Anti-Judaism.
Paul says that a righteousness from God has made itself known apart from the law, to which the law and prophets testify, and this righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus to all who believe.[3:21–22] He describes justification – legally clearing the believer of the guilt and penalty of sin – as a gift of God,[3:24] and not the work of man (lest he might boast), but by faith.[3:28]
In chapters five through eight, Paul argues that believers can be assured of their hope in salvation, having been freed from the bondage of sin. Paul teaches that through faith,[3:28] [4:3] the faithful have been joined with Jesus[5:1] and freed from sin.[6:1–2] [6:18] Believers should celebrate in the assurance of salvation.[12:12] This promise is open to everyone since everyone has sinned,[3:23] save the one who paid for all of them.[3:24]
In chapters 9–11 Paul addresses the faithfulness of God to Israel, where he says that God has been faithful to His promise. Paul hopes that all of Israel will come to realize the truth[9:1–5] since he himself was also an Israelite,[11:1] and had in the past been a persecutor of Early Christians. In Romans 9–11 Paul talks about how the nation of Israel has been cast away, and the conditions under which Israel will be God's chosen nation again: when Israel returns to its faith, sets aside its unbelief.[11:19–24]
In Romans 7:1, Paul says that humans are under the law while we live: "Know ye not...that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth?" However, Jesus' death on the cross makes believers dead to the law ( , "Wherefore, my brethren, ye are also become dead to the law by the body of Christ"), according to an antinomistic interpretation.
From chapter 12 through the first part of chapter 15, Paul outlines how the Gospel transforms believers and the behaviour that results from such a transformation. This transformation is described as a “renewing of your mind” (12:2), a transformation that Douglas J. Moo characterizes as “the heart of the matter.” It is a transformation so radical that it amounts to a “a transfiguration of your brain,” a "metanoia", a “mental revolution.”
Paul goes on to describe how believers should live. Christians are no longer under the law, that is, no longer bound by the law of Moses, but under the grace of God, see Law and grace. We do not need to live under the law because to the extent our minds have been renewed, we will know “almost instinctively” what God wants of us. The law then provides an “objective standard” for judging progress in the “lifelong process” of our mind’s renewal.
To the extent they have been set free from sin by renewed minds (Romans 6:18), believers are no longer bound to sin. Believers are free to live in obedience to God and love everybody. As Paul says in Romans 13:10, "love (ἀγάπη) worketh no ill to his neighbor: therefore love is the fulfilling of law".
The fragment in Romans 13:1–7 dealing with obedience to earthly powers is considered by some, for example James Kallas, to be a gloss incorporated later. (See also the Great Commandment and Christianity and politics).
The concluding verses contain a description of his travel plans, personal greetings and salutations. One-third of the twenty-one Christians identified in the greetings are women, some of whom played an important role in the early church at Rome. Additionally, none of these Christians answer to the name Peter, although according to the Catholic storyline, he had been ruling as Pope in Rome for about 25 years. Possibly related was the Incident at Antioch between Paul and Peter.
But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will be revealed. For he will render to every man according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are factious and do not obey the truth, but obey wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for every one who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality.
Throughout his writings, St. Augustine strongly affirms the Catholic understanding of this and other such Scriptural admonitions. In his sermons to his Catholic congregations, he is especially careful to warn them against an inordinate desire for a complete assurance of salvation. In his Exposition of Psalm 147 for example, he states:
The gospel warned us, "Be on the watch for the last day, the day when the Son of Man will come," because it will spell disaster for those it finds secure as they are now – secure for the wrong reasons, I mean, secure in the pleasures of this world, when they ought to be secure only when they have dominated this world's lusts. The apostle certainly prepares us for that future life in words of which I also reminded you on that occasion.
Again, in his Exposition of Psalm 85, Augustine is perhaps even more specific:
Let us not expect security while we are on pilgrimage. When we do find ourselves wanting it, what we are looking for is bodily sluggishness rather than personal security.
In the Protestant interpretation, the New Testament epistles (including Romans), describes salvation as coming from faith and not from righteous actions. For example, Romans 4:2–5 (emphasis added):
They also point out that in Romans 2, Paul says that God will reward those who follow the law and then goes on to say that no one follows the law perfectly (see also Sermon on the Mount: Interpretation)[Rom 2:21–25]
Martin Luther described Paul's letter to the Romans as the "most important piece in the New Testament. It is purest Gospel. It is well worth a Christian's while not only to memorize it word for word but also to occupy himself with it daily, as though it were the daily bread of the soul".
Luther controversially added the word "alone" (allein in German) to Romans 3:28 so that it read: "thus, we hold, then, that man is justified without doing the works of the law, alone through faith". The word "alone" does not appear in the original Greek text, but Luther defended his translation by maintaining that the adverb "alone" was required both by idiomatic German and Paul's intended meaning. This is a "literalist view" rather than an literal view of the Bible.
The Romans Road refers to a set of scriptures from Romans that Christian evangelists use to present a clear and simple case for personal salvation for each person. They are: Romans 3:23, Romans 6:23, Romans 5:8, Romans 10:9–10, Romans 10:13, and Revelation 3:20.
Romans has been at the forefront of several major movements in Protestantism. Martin Luther's lectures on Romans in 1515–1516 probably coincided with the development of his criticism of Roman Catholicism which led to the 95 Theses of 1517. In 1738, while hearing Luther's Preface to the Epistle to the Romans read at St. Botolph Church on Aldersgate Street in London, John Wesley famously felt his heart "strangely warmed", a conversion experience which is often seen as the beginning of Methodism. In 1919 Karl Barth's commentary on Romans, The Epistle to the Romans, was the publication which is widely seen as the beginning of neo-orthodoxy.
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