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Bible Commentaries

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable


- Romans

by Thomas Constable



Throughout the history of the church, from post-apostolic times to the present, Christians have regarded Romans as having been one of the Apostle Paul’s epistles. [Note: See C. E. B. Cranfield, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans , 1:1-2.] Not only does the letter claim that he wrote it ( 1:1f>), but it develops many of the same ideas and uses the same terminology that appear in Paul’s earlier writings (e.g., Galatians 2; 1 Corinthians 12; 2 Corinthians 8-9).

Following his conversion on the Damascus Road (A.D. 34), Paul preached in Damascus, spent some time in Arabia, and then returned to Damascus. Next he traveled to Jerusalem where he met briefly with Peter and James. He then moved on to Tarsus, which was evidently his base of operations and from which he ministered for about six years (A.D. 37-43). In response to an invitation from Barnabas he moved to Antioch of Syria where he served for about five years (A.D. 43-48). He and Barnabas then set out on their so-called first missionary journey into Asia Minor (A.D. 48-49). Returning to Antioch Paul wrote the Epistle to the Galatians to strengthen the churches that he and Barnabas had just planted in Asia Minor (A.D. 49). After the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15), Paul took Silas and began his second missionary journey (A.D. 50-52) through Asia Minor and on westward into the Roman provinces of Macedonia and Achaia. From Corinth, Paul wrote 1 and 2 Thessalonians (A.D. 51). He proceeded to Ephesus by ship and then on to Syrian Antioch. From there he set out on his third missionary journey (A.D. 53-57). Passing through Asia Minor he arrived in Ephesus where he labored for three years (A.D. 53-56). During this time he wrote 1 Corinthians (A.D. 56). Finally Paul left Ephesus and traveled by land to Macedonia where he wrote 2 Corinthians (A.D. 56). He continued south and spent the winter of A.D. 56-57 in Corinth. There he wrote the Epistle to the Romans and sent it by Phoebe ( 16:1-2f>) to the Roman church.

The apostle then proceeded from Corinth by land clockwise around the Aegean Sea back to Troas in Asia where he boarded a ship and eventually reached Jerusalem. In Jerusalem, the Jews arrested Paul and imprisoned him (A.D. 57). He arrived in Rome as a prisoner and ministered there for two years (A.D. 60-62). During this time he wrote the Prison Epistles (Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon). The Romans freed Paul, and he returned to the Aegean area. There he wrote 1 Timothy and Titus, experienced arrest again, suffered imprisonment in Rome a second time, wrote 2 Timothy, and died as a martyr under Nero in A.D. 68. [Note: See the appendix "Sequence of Paul’s Activities" at the end of these notes for more details.]


We know very little about the founding of the church in Rome. According to Ambrosiaster, a church father who lived in the fourth century, an apostle did not found it (thus discrediting the Roman Catholic claim that Peter founded the church). A group of Jewish Christians did. [Note: William Sanday and Arthur C. Headlam, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, p. xxv.] It is possible that these Jews became believers in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost (cf. 2:10f>) or at some other time quite early in the church’s history. By the time Paul wrote Romans the church in Rome was famous throughout the Roman Empire for its faith ( 1:8f>).

"The greeting in Romans does not imply a strongly knit church organization, and chapter 16 gives a picture of small groups of believers rather than of one large group." [Note: A. Berkeley Mickelsen, "Romans," in The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, p. 1179.]


Paul wrote this epistle under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit for several reasons. [Note: See Philip R. Williams, "Paul’s Purpose in Writing Romans," Bibliotheca Sacra 128:509 (January-March 1971):62-67; Walter B. Russell, III, "An Alternative Suggestion for the Purpose of Romans," Bibliotheca Sacra 145:578 (April-June 1985):174-84; and Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, pp. 16-22.] He wanted to prepare the way for his intended visit to the church ( 15:22-24f>). He evidently hoped that Rome would become a base of operations and support for his pioneer missionary work in Spain and the western portions of the empire that he had not yet evangelized. His full exposition of the gospel in this letter would have provided a solid foundation for their participation in this mission.

As Paul looked forward to returning to Jerusalem between his departure from Corinth and his arrival in Rome, he was aware of the danger he faced ( 15:31f>). He may have written the exhaustive exposition of the gospel that we have in Romans to set forth his teaching in case he did not reach Rome. From Rome his doctrine could then go out to the rest of the empire as others preached it. Paul may have viewed Romans as his legacy to the church, his last will and testament.

Another reason for writing Romans was undoubtedly Paul’s desire to minister to the spiritual needs of the Christians in Rome even though they were in good spiritual condition ( 15:14-16f>). The common problems of all the early churches were dangers to the Roman church as well. These difficulties included internal conflicts, mainly between Jewish and Gentile believers, and external threats from false teachers. Paul gave both of these potential problems attention in this epistle ( 15:1-8f>; 16:17-20f>).

"He felt that the best protection against the infection of false teaching was the antiseptic of the truth." [Note: William Barclay, The Letter to the Romans, p. xxii.]

Paul also wrote Romans as he did because he was at a transition point in his ministry, as he mentioned at the end of chapter 15. His ministry in the Aegean region was solid enough that he planned to leave it and move farther west into new virgin missionary territory. Before he did that, he planned to visit Jerusalem, where he realized he would be in danger. Probably, therefore, Paul wrote Romans as he did to leave a full exposition of the gospel in good hands if his ministry ended prematurely in Jerusalem.

"The peculiar position of the apostle at the time of writing, as he reviews the past and anticipates the future, enables us to understand the absence of controversy in this epistle, the conciliatory attitude, and the didactic and apologetic elements which are all found combined herein." [Note: W. H. Griffith Thomas, St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, p. 20.]


Twenty-one of the 27 New Testament books are letters, and they compose about 35 percent of the New Testament. Paul wrote 13 of these letters, making him the most prolific New Testament letter writer. Paul’s letters make up about one-quarter of the New Testament. He wrote more of the New Testament than anyone except Luke.

"While letters were by no means unknown in the world of the ancient Near East (see, e.g., 11:14-15f>; Ezra 4-5), it was in the Greco-Roman world that the letter became an established and popular method of communication." [Note: Donald A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, p. 332.]

Greco-Roman letters typically contained an address and greeting, a body, and a conclusion. Christian letters also usually contained a doxology or benediction after the conclusion.

Adolf Deissmann distinguished between "letters" (unstudied, private communications) and "epistles" (carefully composed, public pieces of literature). [Note: Adolf Deissmann, "Prolegomena to the Biblical Letters and Epistles," in Bible Studies, pp. 1-59.] This rigid distinction is no longer popular since most scholars view these categories as representing the polar extremes on a continuum. Both secular and inspired correspondences fall somewhere in between. Romans is closer to Deissmann’s "epistle" category than to his "letter" category.

Letters were not a typical method of religious instruction in Judaism. New Testament letter writers evidently adopted this method of instruction for two main reasons. As the church grew fast and spread from Jerusalem to many distant places, its leaders needed a method that enabled them to communicate at a distance. Also, letters enabled the apostles to convey a sense of personal immediacy and establish their personal presence with the converts. [Note: Carson and Moo, p. 331.]


The great contribution of this letter to the body of New Testament inspired revelation is its reasoned explanation of how God’s righteousness can become man’s possession.

The Book of Romans is distinctive among Paul’s inspired writings in several respects. It was one of the few letters he wrote to churches with which he had had no personal dealings. The only other epistle of this kind was Colossians. It is also a formal treatise within a personal letter. [Note: For further discussion of the literary genre of Romans, see Robert E. Longacre and Wilber B. Wallis, "Soteriology and Eschatology in Romans," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 41:3 (September 1998):367-82.] Paul expounded on the gospel in this treatise. He probably did so in this epistle rather than in another because the church in Rome was at the heart of the Roman Empire. As such it was able to exert great influence in the dissemination of the gospel. For these two reasons Romans is more formal and less personal than most of Paul’s other epistles.

Romans is the longest of Paul’s epistles with 7,114 words. It may have been placed first in the collection of Paul’s epistles in the New Testament because of its length, which seems probable, or because of its importance.


The Epistle to the Romans is, by popular consent, the greatest of Paul’s writings. William Tyndale, the great English reformer and translator, referred to Romans as "the principle and most excellent part of the New Testament." He went on to say the following in his prologue to Romans that he wrote in the 1534 edition of his English New Testament.

"No man verily can read it too oft or study it too well; for the more it is studied the easier it is, the more it is chewed the pleasanter it is, and the more groundly [sic] it is searched the preciouser [sic] things are found in it, so great treasures of spiritual things lieth hid therein." [Note: Quoted by F. F. Bruce, The Letter of Paul to the Romans, p. 9.]

Martin Luther wrote the following commendation of this epistle.

"[Romans] is worthy not only that every Christian should know it word for word, by heart, but occupy himself with it every day, as the daily bread of the soul. It can never be read or pondered too much, and the more it is dealt with the more precious it becomes, and the better it tastes." [Note: Martin Luther, "Preface to the Epistle to the Romans" (1522), cited by Moo, p. 22.]


I.    Introduction 1:1-17f>

A.    Salutation 1:1-7f>

1.    The writer 1:1f>

2.    The subject of the epistle 1:2-5f>

3.    The original recipients 1:6-7f>

B.    Purpose 1:8-15f>

C.    Theme 1:16-17f>

II.    The need for God’s righteousness 1:18f> to 3:20f>

A.    The need of all people 1:18-32f>

1.    The reason for human guilt 1:18f>

2.    The ungodliness of mankind 1:19-27f>

3.    The wickedness of mankind 1:28-32f>

B.    The need of good people 2:1f> to 3:8f>

1.    God’s principles of judgment 2:1-16f>

2.    The guilt of the Jews 2:17-29f>

3.    Answers to objections 3:1-8f>

C.    The guilt of all humanity 3:9-20f>

III.    The imputation of God’s righteousness 3:21f> to 5:21f>

A.    The description of justification 3:21-26f>

B.    The defense of justification by faith alone 3:27-31f>

C.    The proof of justification by faith from the law ch. 4

1.    Abraham’s justification by faith 4:1-5f>

2.    David’s testimony to justification by faith 4:6-8f>

3.    The priority of faith to circumcision 4:9-12f>

4.    The priority of faith to the promise concerning headship of many nations 4:13-17f>

5.    The exemplary value of Abraham’s faith 4:18-22f>

6.    Conclusions from Abraham’s example 4:23-25f>

D.    The benefits of justification 5:1-11f>

E.    The restorative effects of justification 5:12-21f>

IV.    The impartation of God’s righteousness chs. 6-8

A.    The believer’s relationship to sin ch. 6

1.    Freedom from sin 6:1-14f>

2.    Slavery to righteousness 6:15-23f>

B.    The believer’s relationship to the law ch. 7

1.    The law’s authority 7:1-6f>

2.    The law’s activity 7:7-12f>

3.    The law’s inability 7:13-25f>

C.    The believer’s relationship to God ch. 8

1.    Our deliverance from the flesh by the power of the Spirit  8:1-11f>

2.    Our new relationship to God 8:12-17f>

3.    Our present sufferings and future glory 8:18-25f>

4.    Our place in God’s sovereign plan 8:26-30f>

5.    Our eternal security 8:31-39f>

V.    The vindication of God’s righteousness chs. 9-11

A.    Israel’s past election ch. 9

1.    God’s blessings on Israel 9:1-5f>

2.    God’s election of Israel 9:6-13f>

3.    God’s freedom to elect 9:14-18f>

4.    God’s mercy toward Israel 9:19-29f>

5.    God’s mercy toward the Gentiles 9:30-33f>

B.    Israel’s present rejection ch. 10

1.    The reason God has set Israel aside 10:1-7f>

2.    The remedy for rejection 10:8-15f>

3.    The continuing unbelief of Israel 10:16-21f>

C.    Israel’s future salvation ch. 11

1.    Israel’s rejection not total 11:1-10f>

2.    Israel’s rejection not final 11:11-24f>

3.    Israel’s restoration assured 11:25-32f>

4.    Praise for God’s wise plans 11:33-36f>

VI.    The practice of God’s righteousness 12:1f> to 15:13f>

A.    Dedication to God 12:1-2f>

B.    Conduct within the church 12:3-21f>

1.    The diversity of gifts 12:3-8f>

2.    The necessity of love 12:9-21f>


C.    Conduct within the state ch. 13

1.    Conduct towards the government 13:1-7f>

2.    Conduct toward unbelievers 13:8-10f>

3.    Conduct in view of our hope 13:11-14f>

D.    Conduct within Christian liberty 14:1f> to 15:13f>

1.    The folly of judging one another 14:1-12f>

2.    The evil of offending one another 14:13-23f>

3.    The importance of pleasing one another 15:1-6f>

4.    the importance of accepting one another 15:7-13f>

VII.    Conclusion 15:14f> to 16:27f>

A.    Paul’s ministry 15:14-33f>

1.    Past labors 15:14-21f>

2.    Present program 15:22-29f>

3.    Future plans 15:30-33f>

B.    Personal matters ch. 16

1.    A commendation 16:1-2f>

2.    Various greetings to Christians in Rome 16:3-16f>

3.    A warning 16:17-20f>

4.    Greetings from Paul’s companions 16:21-24f>

5.    A doxology 16:25-27f>




Sequence of Paul’s Activities




Birth in Tarsus


Early life and theological education in Jerusalem under Gamaliel



Participation in Stephen’s stoning outside Jerusalem

7:57f> to 8:1f>


Leadership in the persecution of Christians in Jerusalem



Leadership in the persecution of Christians beyond Jerusalem to Damascus



Conversion on the road to Damascus



Baptism in Damascus



Preaching in Damascus



Trip to Arabia



Return to Damascus



Trip to Jerusalem

9:26f>; 1:18f>


Meeting with Peter and James and preaching in Jerusalem

9:27-29f>; 1:18-19f>


Trip to Tarsus via Caesarea

9:30f>; 1:21f>


Ministry in and around Tarsus



Caught up to the third heaven



Move to Antioch of Syria on Barnabas’ invitation



Ministry in Antioch of Syria



Trip to Jerusalem with Barnabas and Titus to deliver a famine relief gift

11:30f>; 2:1-10f>


Return to Antioch



Continued ministry in Antioch



First missionary journey with Barnabas and John Mark

13:4f> to 14:27f>


Ministry in Cyprus



Voyage to Asia Minor



Separation from John Mark who departed at Perga



Ministry at Pisidian Antioch



Ministry at Iconium



Ministry at Lystra



Ministry at Derbe



Return to Attalia



Return to Syrian Antioch



Ministry in Syrian Antioch

14:27f> to 15:2f>


Rebuke of Peter


Sequence of Paul’s Activities (cont.)





Writing of Galatians


Trip to Jerusalem with Barnabas via Phoenicia and Samaria



Jerusalem Council



Return to Syrian Antioch with Barnabas, Silas, and Judas

15:22f>; 15:30f>


Separation from Silas and Judas who returned to Jerusalem



Ministry in Syrian Antioch



Division of opinion with Barnabas over John Mark



Separation from Barnabas and John Mark who returned to Cyprus



Second missionary journey with Silas and others

15:40f> to 18:22f>


Ministry in Syria and Cilicia



Ministry in Derbe and Lystra

16:1f> a


Partnership with Timothy who joined Paul and Silas



Ministry in other Galatian churches



Exclusion from Asia and Bithynia



Macedonian vision at Troas



Voyage from Troas to Samothrace to Neapolis with Luke



Ministry in Philippi



Separation from Luke who remained at Philippi

Cf. "we" in 16:12f> with "they" in 17:1f>


Ministry in Thessalonica



Ministry in Berea



Separation from Silas and Timothy who remained in Berea



Ministry in Athens



Ministry in Corinth



Association with Aquilla and Priscilla



Reunion with Silas and Timothy



Writing of 1 and 2 Thessalonians


Trip to Ephesus with Aquilla and Priscilla



Separation from Aquilla and Priscilla who proceeded to Syria



Ministry in Ephesus



Return to Syrian Antioch via Caesarea and Jerusalem



Layover in Syrian Antioch

18:23f> a

Sequence of Paul’s Activities (cont.)





Third missionary journey

Act_18:23 to Act_21:19


Ministry in Galatia

18:23f> b; 19:1f>


Apollos’ ministry in Ephesus



Aquilla and Priscilla’s ministry to Apollos



Apollos’ ministry in Achaia



Ministry in Ephesus and Asia

19:1f> to 20:1f>


Writing of the “former letter” to Corinth



Writing of 1 Corinthians


The “painful visit’ to Corinth and return

2:1f>; 12:14f>; 13:1-2f>


Writing of the “severe letter” to Corinth

2:3-4f>; 7:8-12f>; 12:17-19f>


Sending of Timothy and Erastus to Macedonia



Trip to Troas from Ephesus


Wait for Titus


Trip to Macedonia from Troas



Reunion with Titus in Macedonia


Writing of 2 Corinthians


Ministry in Macedonia



Ministry in Greece (Achaia and Corinth)



Writing of Romans


Return to Macedonia and Philippi with Sopater, Aristarchus, Secundus, Gaius, Timothy, Tychicus, Trophimus, and Luke



Trip of his companions except Luke to Troas



Trip to Troas with Luke



Ministry at Troas



Trip to Assos by land while Luke and another brother travel by ship



Trip to Miletus by ship with Luke and the other brother



Ministry at Miletus



Trip from Miletus to Caesarea with Luke and the other brother via Tyre



Ministry at Caesarea



Trip to Jerusalem



Ministry at Jerusalem

21:17f> to 23:30f>


Report to the church



Arrest in the temple



Speech in the temple courtyard



Imprisonment in Jerusalem

22:22f> to 23:30f>

Sequence of Paul’s Activities (cont.)





Trip to Caesarea



Ministry in Caesarea

24:1f> to 26:32f>


Defense before Felix



Defense before Festus



Defense before Agrippa and Festus



Journey to Rome with Luke and Aristarchus

27:1f> to 28:16f>


Trip to Crete






Ministry on Malta



Trip from Malta to Rome



Ministry in Rome



Writing of the Prison Epistles


Release from Rome


Return to the Aegean area


Writing of 1 Timothy and Titus




Imprisonment in Rome


Writing of 2 Timothy


Martyrdom in Rome


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