Epistle to the Romans
The Epistle to the Romans was always drawing considerable attention among theologians. For example, it was this epistle which significantly contributed to conversion of Augustine, to Martin Luther's discovery of justification by faith or was used by Karl Barth to form manifesto of dialectical theology. This epistle changes Christian life radically. It is therefore essential to know this epistle.
In the articles below, we will look at basic information about the Epistle to the Romans.
The date of the composition is nowhere explicitly mentioned. Therefore in determining the date, we need to take into consideration the events surrounding the letter. By all accounts, Paul wrote this letter at the end of his third missionary journey, probably at Corinth around the years 54-58.
We do not have any information about the foundation of the church (who or when). It could be founded by Christians who were converted by the gospel as church father Ambrosiaster suggests.
By the account of Suetonius, it appears that there was a significant number of Christians in Rome (see Acts 18:2).
Addresses are designated as Christians at Rome (Rom 1:6-7). However, later in the letter, we encounter two groups in various situations. The first group is Christians from Jews (Rom 2:17; 4:1; 7:1) and the second is Christians from Gentiles (Rom 11:13; 11:17-24).
It appears that there was a difference in opinions between these two groups as might be suggested by chapters Rom 9-11 and Rom 14-15. At Rom 11:13-24, Paul is addressing Christians from Gentiles who are boasting over Israel. At Rom 14-15, Paul could also speak to Christians from Gentiles to be thoughtful to the piety of their brothers from Jews. It is a matter of discussion which group was prevailing. However, it appears that Christians from Gentiles were in the majority.
In sum, there are a lot of blind spots about the character and composition of the Roman church.
We know very well about Paul's plan to visit the Roman church. We are told that he just finished his missionary journey in Asia Minor and now making plans to travel to Hispania through Rome. But before he conducts the journey he wants to visit Jerusalem with a collection. We know for sure that he wants to visit Rome. However, Paul is not that explicit about the purpose of writing this letter.
There are various opinions on the purpose of the letter. We would like to present the three of them.
(1) Since Paul is about to begin missionary activities in Hispania, he wants to get financial support for the mission from the Church at Rome. This is suggested by Rom 15:24 using the word προπέμπω meaning „to send on one’s way,“ with an implication of providing help. Therefore in writing the letter, Paul is trying to demonstrate his orthodoxy thus being worthy of their support. But the weak side of this theory is that the letter is also concerned with pastoral matters not only theology.
(2) Paul is trying to summarize his thoughts on the polemics with Judaizers he experienced in Galatia and Corinth. But it makes no sense as to write about this to Rome.
(3) According to Rom 14:1-15:13, Paul is rebuking two groups of Christians calling them weaker and stronger in faith. The first group represents Christians from Jews; the latter represents Christians from Gentiles. Chapters Rom 1-11 function as the theological argument for the rebuke which is targeted against the arrogance of Christians from Gentiles. However, this is problematic in that there is no introduction of the problem at the outset of the letter as it is common in Pauline letters.
Without further clarifications, it is difficult to decide for just one purpose. It is probable that there were combinations of purposes behind the writing of the letter. However, it was a common habit, at the time, to state the purpose of a letter at its outset.
The structure below is structured by the topics touched in a particular section.
- Introduction (Rom 1:1-17)
- God's wrath and judgment – everyone is under the power of sin (Rom 1:18-3:20)
- God's righteousness through faith (Rom 3:21-4:25)
- Salvation (Rom 5:1-8:39)
- Israel (Rom 9:1-11:36)
- Parenesis (Rom 12:1-15:13)
- Conclusion (Rom 15:14-16:27)
Suggestions for personal study
We recommend few steps to understand the letter better.
At the start, you should learn to understand the epistle in the Greek. This will be a gradual process, but you need to start it as the first. The vocabulary of the letter is prepared to be learned by words occurrence. Or you can focus on a specific passage using custom training.
You have to remember that there is a certain purpose behind the letter. Therefore you should invest some time in getting more familiar with its purpose and historical background. All of these pieces of information you can easily find in commentaries or specialized literature.
Paul is using certain argumentative strategy to make his point here in a persuasive way. Be careful to discern his rhetoric and to tracing the argument.