Overview of the Book of Romans

Question

Overview of the Book of Romans

Answer

Overview of the Book of Romans

Author: The author is the Apostle Paul.

Purpose:

To present Paul's Gospel message to the believers in Rome and to explain how the Gospel heals divisions between Jewish and Gentile believers.

Date: A.D. 55-57

Key Truths:

  • Jews and Gentiles are sinners under God's judgment.
  • Jews and Gentiles receive justification through faith alone apart from works.
  • Sanctification, which leads to glorification, takes place through dependence on the Holy Spirit.
  • Jews and Gentiles have interconnected roles in history.
  • Jewish and Gentile Christians must learn to apply the gospel to practical living.

Author:

The opening (Rom. 1:1) and the biographical details (Rom. 1, 15-16) show that the letter to the Romans was written by the apostle Paul. The letter was already cited and listed as Paul's during the second century. Its authenticity has been disputed only rarely and never convincingly.

Time and Place of Writing:

Paul wrote Romans shortly before he delivered the gift from the Gentile congregations to the church in Jerusalem (Rom. 15:25; Acts 24:17). Internal indications suggest that at this time he may have been a resident of Corinth: (1) Phoebe (Rom. 16:1-2) was a member of the Church at Cenchrea, the port of Corinth, (2) Paul's host, Gaius (Rom. 16:23), may have been a resident of Corinth (1 Cor. 1:14), and (3) Erastus had connections with Corinth (Rom. 16:23; Acts 19:22; 2 Tim. 4:20).

Paul probably wrote this letter during the three months described in Acts 20:2-3. While it is impossible to fix a precise date, a number of factors should be considered. For instance, Paul appeared before Gallio (Acts 18:12), the proconsul (normally a one-year appointment), in Achaia in A.D. 52. Around this time, Paul was in Corinth for some time (Acts 18:18), presumably during the period A.D. 51-53. He then sailed to Ephesus for a brief visit and went to Caesarea and probably Jerusalem and Antioch as well (Acts 18:22). Returning through Galatia and Phrygia (Acts 18:23) to Ephesus, he resided there for about three years (Acts 19:8, 10) before proceeding to Jerusalem via Macedonia and Achaia (Acts 19:21). Therefore, the earliest probable date for the writing of Romans is toward the end of A.D. 54. But a later date leaves more leeway for Paul's many activities, so the letter is more likely dated sometime between the end of A.D. 55 and the early months of A.D. 57.

Original Audience:

That the faith of the Roman Christians was well known (Rom. 1:8) and that Paul had desired to visit them for some time (Rom. 1:13) suggest that the Christian faith had been established in Rome for a considerable period. This is supported by the statement of the Roman historian Suetonius that Claudius had expelled the Jews in A.D. 49 for rioting "at the instigation of Chrestus" (arguably a reference to Christ). Visitors from Rome were present in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:10-11) and may have been the first to bring the Good News to the city. Despite tradition stretching back through Irenaeus, it is relatively certain that neither Peter nor Paul founded the Church in Rome. Paul had never visited the church prior to writing his epistle to the Romans (Rom. 1:8-13), and the absence of any reference to Peter or the other apostles suggests that the Roman Church had not experienced direct apostolic ministry.

Both Jews and Gentiles were members of the Church(es) in Rome. Romans 1:13 indicates a predominance of Gentiles, as possibly does the warning to Gentile Christians not to be proud (Rom. 11:13-24). The conflict between weak and strong (Rom. 14:1-15:13) may have arisen from conflicts between Jewish and Gentile believers. It is even possible that some of the house Churches in Rome were exclusively Jewish or Gentile (cf. Rom. 16:5, 14-15).

Purpose and Distinctives:

Paul was at a critical juncture in his ministry at the time Romans was written. He believed that he had fulfilled his ministry in the eastern Mediterranean (Rom. 15:17-23) and that the time was ripe for him to move west and evangelize in Spain (Rom. 15:24). He hoped to visit the Roman Christians on the way, fulfilling a long-time ambition and perhaps gaining their assistance as a supporting Church (Rom. 15:24). In light of this, it was essential for him to present his apostolic credentials (note the phrase "my gospel" in Romans 2:16 and 16:25), so they would recognize the authenticity of his ministry. Paul may also have thought it necessary to defend his ministry from the false insinuations of rumormongers (Rom. 3:8).

Paul's work also stood at a critical juncture in terms of his burden to see the Christian Church as a mutual fellowship of Jews and Gentiles joined in the one body of Christ. This is clear from the importance he attached to the Gentile love-gift to the Jerusalem Church. It also surfaces throughout Romans in the theme of the unifying of Jews and Gentiles both in sin because of Adam and through grace in Christ. Both Jews and Gentiles need the saving righteousness of the gospel, since all have sinned; it may be received by anyone, since it comes by grace through faith. The outworking of this saving righteousness in history is the key to God's ultimate purposes for both Jews and Gentiles, and this saving righteousness is to be expressed in the lives of all-personally, communally and socially-united within the body of Christ as the new people of God. The opportunity for writing while in Corinth, the pressing burden of his visit to Jerusalem and the prospect of visiting the capital of the empire before bringing the Gospel to the limits of the then-known world were all factors that motivated Paul to write this letter.

Romans is Paul's most comprehensive explanation of the Gospel. John Chrysostom, the fifth century's greatest preacher, had Romans read aloud to him once a week. Augustine and all of the Reformers saw Romans as crucial to a proper understanding of the rest of Scripture. In Romans Paul brought together a number of themes that have held a central role in Reformed theology: sin, law, judgment, human destiny, faith, works, grace, justification, sanctification, election, the plan of salvation, the work of Christ and of the Spirit, the Christian hope, the nature and life of the church, the place of Jews and Gentiles in the purposes of God, the meaning of the Old Testament, the duties of Christian citizenship and the principles of personal godliness, and morality. However, Paul did not combine all of these topics simply for the sake of explaining Christian theology. Rather, each of these teachings contributed to his greater purposes of uniting Jews and Gentiles in the Roman Church and establishing the Roman Church firmly in the gospel and as a part of the Roman community. He hoped that strengthening them in these ways would not only help them mature as a Church, but also better equip them to aid in his planned missionary endeavors to Spain.

Notes from the NIV Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible, Dr. Richard Pratt, ed. (Zondervan, 2003).

Copyright:

Copyright, Authors, and Theological Editors of the SORSB

Answer by Dr. Richard L. Pratt, Jr.

Dr. Richard L. Pratt, Jr. is Co-Founder and President of Third Millennium Ministries who served as Professor of Old Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary and has authored numerous books.