Romans: Introduction – Romans 1:1–17
Read the Passage: Romans 1:1-17
Authorship and Date: The book of Romans was written by the apostle Paul, and this letter stands at the forefront of his thirteen epistles (or fourteen if Paul wrote the book of Hebrews). In fact, apart from the Gospels, the book of Romans is arguably the most important book in the New Testament, as it contains the most systematic presentation of the doctrine of salvation in the Bible. Paul wrote this letter to the church at Rome, which was the capital city of the Roman Empire. Note that Paul had never visited this church before (cf. Rom. 1:13), although he would later visit the city of Rome as a prisoner and, according to tradition, be martyred outside of the city walls. A study of the individuals whom Paul mentions in the final chapter of the epistle leads to the conclusion that he wrote this book from the city of Corinth, likely around 56–57 AD. At this time Paul was wrapping up his third missionary journey, as he prepared to depart from Greece for Palestine (cf. Acts 18:1–17). Paul aimed to deliver an offering for the impoverished church in Jerusalem which was laboring under persecution and a severe famine (cf. Rom. 15:25). Observe that this letter was delivered to the church by an otherwise unknown sister named Phoebe (cf. Rom. 16:1).
Theme and Purpose: Almost all of Paul’s letters were written to churches that he founded. Yet, the strategic church in Rome had likely been started by travelers who were present in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost (cf. Acts 2:10). While Paul had never personally visited the Roman church, he longed to do so in order to minister to them, to be mutually encouraged, to evangelize the city, and to preach the gospel (cf. Rom. 1:10–15). Note that the book of Romans is unique among Paul’s letters in that he does not write in order to correct a church problem or to warn about false teachers. Rather, Paul writes in order to systematically explain the Christian faith, especially focusing upon the doctrine of justification by faith alone. A reoccurring theme in the book of Romans is the righteousness of God. Given that there was likely no apostolic presence in Rome, it may be that Paul felt responsible to provide these believers with apostolic instruction. By clearly explaining the doctrine of salvation for the church, Paul aided the Christians in Rome in their understanding of the gospel and in their own sanctification. Indeed, the content of this epistle is likely what Paul shared in person in the many other churches that he founded.
Structure and Outline: Of Paul’s thirteen epistles, the book of Romans is the most systematic in content; therefore, it is the easiest of Paul’s letters to outline. A suggested thematic outline of this book is as follows:
- Introduction (1:1–17)
- Condemnation (1:18–3:20)
- Justification (3:21–5:21)
- Sanctification (6:1–8:39)
- Restoration (9:1–11:36)
- Application (12:1–15:13)
- Conclusion (15:14–16:27)
Greeting to Believers (1:1–7)
Given Paul’s intent to explain the doctrine of salvation in this letter, it is not surprising that he immediately writes of Jesus in his introduction. After describing himself as a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, Paul notes that his gospel is the fulfillment of prophetic teaching in the Old Testament. As evidence of this claim, Paul cites two such prophesies. First, Jesus was the Son of David, as was promised within the Davidic Covenant (cf. 2 Sam. 7:12–14; Ps. 89:3–4). Note that both Mary (cf. Luke 3:23, 31) and Joseph (cf. Matt. 1:6, 16; Luke 1:27) were of David’s family line. Second, Jesus was the Son of God, which was proven by His resurrection (cf. Ps. 2:7–9). Observe that when Jesus is referred to as God’s Son in the Bible, Scripture is referring to His position, not His creation. Said differently, the fact that Jesus is God’s only begotten Son is a statement about Christ’s authority, not about His chronology. Jesus is both 100% man and 100% God.
Desire of Paul (1:8–15)
As a part of his introduction, in Rom. 1:8–15 Paul expresses his great desire to visit the church in Rome. Moreover, Paul writes that he constantly prays for the church in Rome, even though he had never visited the city and likely did not personally know many of the believers in the church. The fact that most of the Christians in Rome only knew Paul by reputation explains why he stated his apostolic credentials in Rom. 1:1–6. Next, Paul writes in Rom. 1:11–12 that he wanted to visit Rome for mutual ministry purposes—indeed, Paul later mentions that he wanted the church to assist him on a planned visit to Spain (cf. Rom. 15:22–24). Observe Paul’s statement, “I am ready to preach the gospel to you who are in Rome also” (Rom. 1:15). Paul desired to share the gospel with the church not because they were unbelievers, but because the gospel is the totality of Jesus’ work and an event of which believers must be reminded (cf. 1 Cor. 15:1–58; 1 Pet. 1:12).
Gospel of Christ (1:16–17)
These two verses summarize the theme of the entire book of Romans and are, in fact, the centerpiece of Pauline theology. Note that despite facing numerous hardships in ministry (cf. 2 Cor. 11:22–29), Paul was not ashamed of the gospel, for the gospel is the key to salvation and life. In salvation, we can experience the divine righteousness that is both of God and from God. This righteousness is “from faith to faith” (Rom. 1:17)—that is, it is passed on from one believer to another believer, as well as being initiated by God and finished by God (cf. Heb. 12:2). In quoting Hab. 2:4 Paul reinforces his opening teaching that the gospel has always been God’s plan of salvation (cf. Luke 16:31; Gal. 3:8; Heb. 4:2). A helpful rendering of Hab. 2:4 is, “The just shall have life by faith.” Alternatively, Luther translated this important verse, “He who through faith is righteous shall live.” The idea here is that anything apart from faith will lead to death, not to life.
- What does Paul mean in Rom. 1:7 as he describes the believers in Rome as being beloved, called, and saints? Is this description true of all believers?
- Do most Christians have a proper understanding of the scope of the gospel? Is the gospel just for unbelievers of for believers too?
- Like Paul, do you regularly pray for those whom you don’t know? If not, who are some fellow Christians for who you could pray on a regular basis?
- What does Paul mean in describing the righteousness of salvation as being “from faith to faith” (Rom. 1:17)? How is the gospel most effectively spread?
- What is the meaning of Hab. 2:4, “The just shall live by faith” (Rom. 1:17)? Is there any significance to the fact that Paul cited this passage in three of his epistles?