Author and Title
The Apostle Paul wrote the book of Romans. The letter was
written to the Christian churches in Rome.
Paul probably wrote Romans from Corinth, on his third
missionary journey, in A.D. 57. Having completed
his work in the eastern part of the Roman Empire, he hoped to travel to Rome
and then on to Spain; but first he needed to go to Jerusalem to deliver the
money he had collected for the church there Paul commends Phoebe, and she was
likely the person who brought the letter to Rome.
The theme of Romans is the revelation of God’s judging and
saving righteousness in the gospel of Jesus Christ. In the cross of Christ, God
judges sin and yet at the same time manifests his saving mercy.
Purpose, Occasion, and
Romans provides the fullest expression of Paul’s theology,
though it is doubtful that he intended it to be a complete summary statement.
It is more likely that Paul wrote the letter to address
particular issues of concern to the Roman church. Specifically, he addressed
matters of interest for a church that included both Jewish and Gentile
Christians: (1) Can one be right with God through obeying the law? (2) What can
be learned from Abraham, and is he the father of both Jewish and Gentile
Christians? (3) What role does the law play with reference to sin? (4) What
does the salvation of Gentiles indicate about the future of Israel as God’s
people? (5) Should Christians observe OT food laws, and how should they relate
to fellow believers on such matters?
The focus on Jew-Gentile issues suggests that tensions
existed between Jews and Gentiles in the church in Rome. The Roman church
probably began as a Jewish church, though it is not known exactly when it was
established. Perhaps Jews from Rome returned from Jerusalem after Pentecost and
founded the church, or perhaps the church was established later. Some have
suggested that Peter founded the church in Rome, but no significant evidence
supports this premise.
As time passed, of course, Gentiles in Rome also became
Christians. The Roman historian Suetonius records that the Roman emperor Claudius
(reigned A.D. 41–54)
expelled Jews from Rome in A.D. 49 because of strife
over “Christos.” The expulsion of Jews from Rome is confirmed by Acts
18:2. Because of the expulsion, the Gentile churches would have developed for a
number of years apart from the Jews. Over the years the Jewish Christians
slowly filtered back into Roman churches. It is not difficult to imagine that
tensions would develop between law-observing Jewish Christians and Gentile
Christians who lived free of the restrictions in the Mosaic law. It seems,
however, that the church was made up mainly of Gentile Christians.
Paul’s selection of themes (gospel and law; the
significance of Abraham; the future of Israel) suggests significant tensions
between the Jews and Gentiles in Rome. Paul wrote Romans so that they would be
united in the gospel he preached, and so that they would comprehend how the
gospel spoke to the issues that divided them.
A closer look at Romans reveals another purpose as well.
Paul wanted the Christians in Rome to rally around his gospel so that Rome
would become the base of operations by which he could proclaim the gospel in Spain.
If Roman Christians did not agree with Paul’s gospel message, especially on the
issues being debated among Jews and Gentiles, then they would not support his
proposed mission to Spain. Paul needed to explain the gospel in some detail so
that the Christians in Rome would become the base from which he could proclaim
the gospel in new regions.
Of course, the ultimate aim and purpose for the preaching
of the gospel is the glory of God. Paul longs for the Gentiles to come to the
obedience of faith for the sake of Christ’s name. God has planned all of
salvation history to bring glory and praise to his name.
The Ancient City of Rome
The city of Rome was founded upon seven hills on the
eastern shore of the Tiber River. Rome grew from a small city to an empire
through its conquests of Italy (3rd century B.C.), Carthage in north
Africa (3rd century B.C.),
Greece and Macedonia (2nd century B.C.), western and northern
Europe (2nd century B.C.–2nd
and Egypt and much of the Near East (1st century B.C.). By Paul’s day, the
senatorial rule of the Roman republic had succumbed to a centralized empire
under the leadership of Augustus (27 B.C.–A.D. 14), Tiberius (A.D. 14–37), Gaius
(37–41), Claudius (41–54), and Nero (54–68).
Archaeological evidence in Rome confirms monumental
structures that stood during the time of Paul, such as the Circus Maximus,
Tabularium (state archives), theaters (including those of Pompey and of
Marcellus), and multiple forums. Later, in the third century A.D., the Umbilicus Romae
stood in the center of the city, and this cylindrical monument marked the
theoretical “center” of the Roman world (likely this way of thinking about
Rome’s place in the world stemmed from well before the NT period). The prestige
of the early emperors was memorialized during Paul’s day in their basilicas,
arches, and forums (e.g., the Forums of Caesar and of Augustus), in the Altar of
Peace, in the Mausoleum of Augustus, in porticoes and images honoring their
extended imperial family, and in imperial cult temples (such as the temple of
Julius Caesar from 29 B.C. and the temple of
Claudius). Innumerable pagan gods received worship in Rome. Especially
impressive temples were dedicated to such ancient gods/goddesses as Mars,
Saturn, Castor and Pollux, Vesta, Venus and Roma, Apollo, and Jupiter. Indeed,
devotion to all the great Roman gods was offered in the monumental domed
Pantheon, which stands in Rome to this day.
Daily life in Rome could be luxurious for the wealthy but difficult
for others. Multiple aqueducts and a huge sewer system provided for the immense
water requirements of Rome, including the many bathhouses, fountains, and
latrines. Food had to be imported to satisfy the needs of this thriving
metropolis, and the emperor often directly oversaw the vital grain supply.
Luxury villas in Rome were the privileged possessions of the wealthiest
families (often of senatorial or equestrian rank) and especially of the
emperors, but most of the housing in ancient Rome consisted of insulae (multistory
apartment buildings often constructed above first-floor shops). Contemporary
authors spoke of a severely overcrowded, loud, and smelly city—a place that
provided every virtue and vice known to mankind. The residents of Rome were
mostly pagan, although a sizable Jewish population also existed (as evidenced
both by 1st-century literature and by later remains of inscriptions). The
expulsion of the Jews under the emperor Claudius (A.D. 49) was a limited
1. All people are sinners,
therefore all, without exception, need to be saved from their sin.
2. The Mosaic law, though
good and holy, cannot counteract the power of sin.
3. Through the
righteousness of God, sin is judged and salvation is provided.
4. With the coming of
Jesus Christ, the former age of redemptive history has passed away and the new
age of redemptive history has begun.
5. The atoning death of
Jesus Christ is central to God’s plan of salvation.
6. Justification is by
7. There is a certain hope
of future glory for those who are in Christ Jesus.
8. Those who have died
with Christ and who enjoy the work of the Holy Spirit are enabled to live a new
9. God is sovereign in
salvation; he works all things according to his plan.
10. God fulfills his
saving promises to both Jews and Gentiles.
11. The grace of the
gospel calls Christians to personal holiness, mutual service, good citizenship,
and wholehearted neighbor-love in Christ.
History of Salvation
God’s OT promises of salvation are fulfilled in the gospel
of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and of new life received through
faith in him. The gospel goes to both Jew and Gentile, fulfilling God’s plan to
bless the nations.
The Setting of Romans
(c. A.D. 57)
Paul probably wrote Romans from Corinth during his third
missionary journey. Rome was the epicenter of the powerful Roman Empire, ruling
over many of the great ancient centers of Western civilization. Paul had
established the church at Corinth during his second missionary journey.