Paul had not yet met many of the Christians in Rome, but he loved them and prayed for an opportunity to meet with and encourage them. In the meantime he wished to set forth for them a comprehensive view of salvation and the two covenants. Thus he wrote his letter to the Romans.
Paul’s letter to the Romans is the sixth book in modern editions of the New Testament. Paul is the only person listed as its author, although it seems that he composed it by dictation to Tertius his amanuensis (Romans 1:1, 16:22); Pauline authorship of Romans is not in dispute even among scholars. Paul gave greetings from Gaius and his house and Erastus the city treasurer (Romans 16:23); these men are Corinthian Christians, and Paul speaks of the gift of the Greek Christians which he intends to bring to Jerusalem (Romans 15:26-33). He thus most likely writes Romans while in Corinth after his time in Ephesus (ca. 53-54; Acts 20:1-3). Having seen the influence of the “Judaizers” upon the churches of Galatia and Corinth (cf. 2 Corinthians, Galatians), and knowing that all roads truly led to Rome, Paul wanted to systematically set forth what the Gospel teaches regarding the salvation of Jews and Gentiles in Christ and how God could be in the right to do so. Paul wrote to the Roman Christians to this end and to exhort and strengthen them in their faith.
Paul introduced himself in terms of Jesus and his call to apostleship, spoke of how often he prayed for the Roman Christians, and established his desire to meet with them for mutual edification (Romans 1:1-15). In Romans 1:16-17 Paul established a sort of “thesis” for much of what will follow (Romans 1:18-8:39): the Gospel is God’s power of salvation, the revelation of the righteousness of God from faith unto faith, for the righteous live by faith.
Paul began the defense of his thesis by establishing how all were shut up under sin and were unable to be justified by works of the Law (Romans 1:18-3:21). Pagan Gentiles should have known about God from His work in the creation and His divine image in humanity, but they did not honor God, served idols, and committed flagrantly evil transgressions (Romans 1:18-32). He then turned to the Jewish person: the one who judges others but does similar things is in no better position, for God shows no partiality in judgment (Romans 2:1-11); those who teach but do not follow are not justified, for the true circumcision is of the heart, whether Jew or Gentile (Romans 2:12-29). The Jewish people had the benefit of the message of God but did not prove faithful: all are under sin, and by Law no flesh shall be justified in God’s sight (Romans 3:1-20). Instead, God has provided a means of propitiation for sin through Jesus, and those who put their trust in Him can receive justification, both Jew and Gentile (Romans 3:21-30).
Paul then answered a series of expected responses and issues regarding justification by faith. Paul pointed out that God justified Abraham by his faith, that Abraham never deserved his standing, and received that justification while uncircumcised (Romans 4:1-15). Abraham’s trust in God leading to the birth of Isaac is a type of death and resurrection (Romans 4:16-25). Paul then worked through the implications of justification by faith in Christ: access by faith, grace to stand, and as the commendation of God’s love toward us (Romans 5:1-11). Paul further demonstrated the need for such redemption by comparing Adam and Jesus: as Adam sinned and sin spread to all, so Jesus gave His life once and allowed for justification and righteousness for all, for where transgression abounded, grace abounded even more (Romans 5:12-21). Christians are not to sin to get more grace: believers died to sin so as to no longer live in it; baptism is a type of death and resurrection, a death to sin to live in righteousness (Romans 6:1-14). Christians are not under law but under grace: not as license to sin but the ability to choose to serve righteousness and not sin (Romans 6:15-23).
As a wife whose husband is dead is no longer bound to him, so Jewish people are no longer bound to the Law of Moses thanks to the death of Christ (Romans 7:1-4). The Law is not sin: it is good, right, and holy, but in bringing that knowledge it provides sin an opportunity to deceive so that despite desiring to do good we end up doing the evil we do not wish to do; such is what it means to be under sin (Romans 7:5-25). In Christ we have been set free from the law of sin and death; we are free to walk according to the spirit, not the flesh; we are adopted as sons of God, co-heirs with Christ, and hope for the resurrection; God is for us, and who can be against us, and none can separate us from God’s love in Christ (Romans 8:1-39).
In Romans 9:1-11:36 Paul tackled the thorny questions regarding how God was just to cast off unfaithful Israel and bring in the Gentiles. He began by establishing how not all Abraham’s descendants received the promise and God is able to show mercy to whom He will, and He has chosen to show mercy to many of the Gentiles (Romans 9:1-33). Paul wants physical Israel to be saved: they have heard the message but have rejected it, and one must hear, believe, and confess to be saved (Romans 10:1-21). God has preserved a remnant of Israel; Israel is seen as an olive tree with some branches broken off and Gentiles as wild olive branches grafted in; the Gentiles are to make Israel jealous and repent; God’s ways are inscrutable (Romans 11:1-36).
Paul concluded with exhortations and final greetings (Romans 12:1-16:27). Christians are to be living sacrifices, working together as a body, embodying Jesus to those without (Romans 12:1-21). Christians are to obey civil authorities and pay taxes, observing the great command to love their neighbors as themselves, and live as prepared for the Lord’s return (Romans 13:1-14). Christians were not to divide over matters of liberty, but respect each other’s consciences (Romans 14:1-23). Christians are to bear with each other with patience (Romans 15:1-7). Christ fulfilled the promises made to Israel and Gentiles were welcomed to give glory to God; Paul believed well regarding the Roman Christians, and spoke of how the Greek Christians were giving to the needs of Jewish Christians (Romans 15:8-31). Paul commended Phoebe, greeted many of the saints in Rome, warned about false teachers, provided greetings from his co-workers and Christians in Corinth, and provided final salutations (Romans 16:1-27).
Paul’s letter to the Romans has been hailed ever since as the ultimate treatise on salvation in Christ. We do well to learn from Paul, praise God for salvation in Christ, trust in the Lord, and obtain the resurrection in Him!
Ethan R. Longhenry