- 1:1: “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God”
- Optional: In the Roman period most people did not write but instead used scribes (the technical word is “amanuensis”), which was basically like dictating a letter to a secretary.
- Paul used an amanuensis to write most of his letters, including this one.
- We know the name of the amanuensis he used: Tertius
- 16:22: “I, Tertius, who wrote down this letter, greet you in the Lord.”
Place and Time of Writing
- Paul was probably in Corinth on his 3rd missionary trip (3MT).
- 57. [Remember that dates are approximate.]
- Romans is considered by many to be Paul’s greatest work. It has a deeper analysis of Jesus and the Christian faith than any other letter by Paul.
- Uses a question-and-answer format. He anticipates their questions and answers them.
- These are known as diatribes. An author will state a question as if the reader is asking it, and will then answer the question.
- The house churches in Rome are not having any problems for Paul to solve; therefore Paul focuses on discussing Jesus.
- Remember, Romans is not the first letter that Paul wrote. It was probably the fifth letter he wrote that we have evidence of.
- Paul did not introduce Christianity to Rome; others, whose names we don’t have, started the first house churches in Rome. Paul did introduce Christianity to many cities, but not to Rome.
- Paul had not yet been to Rome. He was on his 3MT and intended to visit Rome, and so wrote a letter before his trip.
- At this time, scholars estimate that Rome had 1 million people.
- House churches in Rome.
- As in all the letters, scholars do not know how many house churches there were.
- 1:7: “To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints.”
- God offers a relationship with everyone who comes to Christ by faith.
More details about Romans
Why do Paul’s letters to cities have the same two-step arrangement?
- A pattern emerges when examining the letters of Paul to cities. The first part of most of the letters discusses an issue (or several issues) in the house churches of that city, and the second part explains how to live as a Christian.
- Why does Paul use that outline? Or to be more specific, why does Paul include the second part on how to live as a Christian?
- Short answer: because the Gospels hadn’t been written yet.
- Longer answer: If someone becomes a Christian today, they will read the Gospels to see how Jesus lived his life. Christians believe that Jesus is the supreme example of living a life to please God, and so the Gospels are the natural place to begin reading. But Paul lived and died before the Gospels were written. Therefore, when Paul traveled on his missionary trips, he could not tell new believers to read the Gospels and find out how Jesus lived his life because they had not been written yet. Therefore, Paul included instructions for Christians on how God intended them to live.
Why did Paul write this letter?
- Paul was in Corinth on his 3MT when he wrote this letter. He knew that he wanted to visit Rome next, and so decided to write the house churches in Rome before he arrived. Since the house churches did not have problems (that we know of), Paul focused on describing the mission of Jesus.
- This will make more sense once you study I Corinthians. That letter was written to handle numerous problems in the house churches.
- The house churches in Rome consisted of Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians. While the message of Jesus and the Council of Jerusalem was clear that circumcision and the Law were no longer to be followed, some Christians did not fully understand how God made a shift from the practices of the OT to the practices of Jesus. By this time, Paul had traveled much and talked to many people and so knew the usual questions people asked about the ministry of Jesus. Since Christianity increasingly included both Jewish and Gentile Christians, he knew the answer had to show how the message of Jesus included both perspectives equally. Therefore, since Paul was getting ready to visit the city, he decided to write a letter that explained this topic in detail. That way, once Paul arrived in Rome, that matter would be settled and he could move on to other work and ministries.
History of differences between Jews and Jewish Christians in Rome:
- The city of Rome had experienced disagreements over the issue of Jesus in the past. During the reign of the emperor Claudius (41-54) this developed to such a problem between Jews and Jewish Christians that Claudius had to step in and act. We know this from three sources:
- Suetonius was a Roman historian. He wrote “Because the Jews at Rome caused continuous disturbances at the instigation of Chrestos, he expelled them from the city.” (Lives of the Twelve Caesars, 25.2) One note: “Christ” in Greek would be “Christos” and not “Chrestos.” Most scholars believed that Suetonius simply misspelled “Christos.” He probably heard the word and wrote down what he thought he heard. This becomes clear because of the two other references to his action below.
- Cassius Dio was a Greek historian. He wrote "As for the Jews, who had again increased so greatly that by reason of their multitude it would have been hard without raising a tumult to bar them from the city [Rome], he [Claudius] did not drive them out, but ordered them, while continuing their traditional mode of life, not to hold meetings." Cassius Dio expresses what is probably closer to the truth, that the mandate, while sounding severe (leave the city), was not implemented although it did mean some wealthier Jews left and the Jews left behind were curtailed in their activities.
- Acts 18:1,2: “After this, Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. There he met a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all the Jews to leave Rome.” Aquila and Priscilla were probably amongst those wealthier Jews who felt uncomfortable living in Rome and so left.
- This issue probably impacted the letter that Paul wrote to the Romans because this event was still on people’s minds (although it happened several decades before). Some scholars even believe that this is the reason Paul wrote the letter. He wanted to state the mission of Jesus clearly so that both Jewish and Gentile believers would have confidence that they were equal partners in the “people of God.” We can also assume that Paul knew Jews would read this letter and so wrote clearly so that they could understand Jesus’ message as well.
The main topic in Romans
- Paul's theme was discussed in detail in the "Paul's Theology" link. Paul wanted to show how Jesus fulfilled the OT and that faith in Jesus was sufficient to please God, and so discussed that in detail in Romans. By understanding Pauline Theology (see "Paul's Theology"), you understand what Paul was trying to do in the first part of Romans. Remember, the second half mainly focused on how to live as a Christian because the Gospels had not been written yet.
Why this issue isn’t discussed much in churches today
- As I have taught NT over 50 times in universities and churches, I noticed that this topic of circumcision and the Law were new ones to many Christians. This lack of general knowledge about these two topics has a reason. Christianity came out of (or “fulfilled” to use Jesus’ word) Judaism and so had to handle two ideas that were basic to Judaism: circumcision and the Law. Therefore, that was a major topic of discussion and debate in the first 30-40 years of Christianity when Christianity consisted of many Jews and many Jews were converting to Christianity. It was so important that the first Christian council met because of it. But that issue was settled in the First Century and we don’t hear about it much or at all in today’s churches. Yet it is a topic of much discussion in some of the NT books.
- As an example think about America in the 1770s right as it was becoming a independent nation. In 1770 America was a colony of England, and then it broke from England in 1776. One main reason, among others, for the break was due to England taxing the American colonies without the colonies being represented in the English Parliament. So if you lived in America in 1777, the year after America separated from England, you heard a lot about the right of Americans not to be unfairly taxed by the British. But today in America, you never hear that mentioned whenever the topic of “what it means to be an American” comes up in conversation. Why? Because that issue was handled long ago and we don’t have to deal with it anymore.
- The same progression happened with the issues of Gentiles needed to be (or not) circumcised and follow the Law in order to please God. It was a huge issue in the first 30-40 years of Christianity but no more. Nevertheless, if you are going to study the NT in any detail, it is a topic that has to be understood.
Outline of Romans
- 1:1-17: Greetings to the house churches.
- 1:18 – end of 4: God is no longer please with the practice of circumcision and the Law, but instead desires faith in Jesus.
- 5:1 – end of 8: Paul describes what a life based on faith looks like.
- 9:1 – end of 11: Paul discusses the reluctance of many Jews in accepting Jesus and answers their questions.
- 12:1 – 15:13: Instructions on how to live as a Christian.
- 15:14 – end of 16: Paul explains a desire to visit them and sends greetings to many people that he knows there.
Readings from Romans
- Some consider this the “thesis statement” of Romans: 1:16,17: "I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentiles. For in the gospel of righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness [being made right in the eyes of God] that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written, 'The righteous [those made right through Jesus in the eyes of God] will live by faith.'"
- Paul addresses both Jewish and Gentile believers in this statement. His conclusion is that God desires people to “live by faith” in Jesus.
- Paul gives a new meaning to “circumcision”: 2:28,29: “A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly [having been circumcised], nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. no, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God.”
- Paul discussed the idea that OT circumcision was only a physical act and did not necessarily lead to a changed attitude. He did recognize that God has always desire faith, beginning with Abraham, and so shows that, as a symbol, circumcision should represent that someone was “circumcised of the heart,” meaning he/she has turned away from a life focused on self and to one focused on faith in Jesus.
- Paul shows how the Holy Spirit guides Christians: 8:9,10: “You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness [being made right in the eyes of God].”
- The Holy Spirit, as the third part of the Trinity, teaches Christians how to live. According to these verses, this is only available to those who have decided to follow Jesus.
- One of the favorite verses in the Bible: 8:37-39: “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Timeline up to the book of Romans
Dates are approximate.
|63 B.C.||Romans conquer Israel.|
|27 B.C.||Pax Romana began and lasted until A.D. 180.|
|4 B.C.||Jesus born.|
|All dates after this are A.D.|
|30||Jesus was crucified, buried, rose from the dead, and ascended to heaven.
Apostles travel to Jerusalem and choose Matthias to replace Judas as an Apostle.
Day of Pentecost: Peter assumes leadership of Christianity.
|30-50||Peter was leader of Christianity.|
|33||Jesus appeared to Paul and Paul became a Christian.|
|48-50||Paul's First Missionary Trip.|
|50||Council of Jerusalem; Paul became one of the main Christian leaders.|
|50-55||Paul's Second Missionary Trip.|
|55-60||Paul's Third Missionary Trip.|
|60-62||Paul arrested in Jerusalem and taken to Rome.|
|62-63||(Not in Acts) Paul probably released from prison during this time.|
|63-65||(Not in Acts) Paul probably traveled. He may have gone to Spain.|
|64||Fire in Rome and Christians persecuted by Emperor Nero.|
|65||(Not in Acts)Paul back in Rome; he and Peter arrested and martyred: Peter crucified upside down and Paul beheaded.|
|67||Gospel of Mark written.|
|70||Temple in Jerusalem destroyed by Romans (it has not been rebuilt).|
|80||Gospels of Matthew and Luke written.|
|90||Gospel of John and book of Acts written.|
|95||Christians persecuted by Emperor Domitian; Apostle John exiled on island of Patmos where he wrote Revelation.|
|96||Emperor Domitian died; Apostle John probably moved to Ephesus.|
|100||Apostle John died; he was the last Apostle to die.|
|390's||New Testament canon "closed" at Councils of Hippo (393) and Carthage (397).|
|1200's||Chapters added to the New Testament.|
|1500's||Verses added to the New Testament.|
©2016 Mark Nickens