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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 (Romans 1:1), 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 (Romans 16:1-2) 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. Acts 2:10) 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 (Romans 1:8).
"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 (Romans 15:22-24). 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 (Romans 15:31). 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 (Romans 15:14-16). 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 (Romans 15:1-8; Romans 16:17-20).
"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., 2 Samuel 11:14-15; 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 Romans 1:1-17
A. Salutation Romans 1:1-7
1. The writer Romans 1:1
2. The subject of the epistle Romans 1:2-5
3. The original recipients Romans 1:6-7
B. Purpose Romans 1:8-15
C. Theme Romans 1:16-17
II. The need for God’s righteousness Romans 1:18 to Romans 3:20
A. The need of all people Romans 1:18-32
1. The reason for human guilt Romans 1:18
2. The ungodliness of mankind Romans 1:19-27
3. The wickedness of mankind Romans 1:28-32
B. The need of good people Romans 2:1 to Romans 3:8
1. God’s principles of judgment Romans 2:1-16
2. The guilt of the Jews Romans 2:17-29
3. Answers to objections Romans 3:1-8
C. The guilt of all humanity Romans 3:9-20
III. The imputation of God’s righteousness Romans 3:21 to Romans 5:21
A. The description of justification Romans 3:21-26
B. The defense of justification by faith alone Romans 3:27-31
C. The proof of justification by faith from the law ch. 4
1. Abraham’s justification by faith Romans 4:1-5
2. David’s testimony to justification by faith Romans 4:6-8
3. The priority of faith to circumcision Romans 4:9-12
4. The priority of faith to the promise concerning headship of many nations Romans 4:13-17
5. The exemplary value of Abraham’s faith Romans 4:18-22
6. Conclusions from Abraham’s example Romans 4:23-25
D. The benefits of justification Romans 5:1-11
E. The restorative effects of justification Romans 5:12-21
IV. The impartation of God’s righteousness chs. 6-8
A. The believer’s relationship to sin ch. 6
1. Freedom from sin Romans 6:1-14
2. Slavery to righteousness Romans 6:15-23
B. The believer’s relationship to the law ch. 7
1. The law’s authority Romans 7:1-6
2. The law’s activity Romans 7:7-12
3. The law’s inability Romans 7:13-25
C. The believer’s relationship to God ch. 8
1. Our deliverance from the flesh by the power of the Spirit Romans 8:1-11
2. Our new relationship to God Romans 8:12-17
3. Our present sufferings and future glory Romans 8:18-25
4. Our place in God’s sovereign plan Romans 8:26-30
5. Our eternal security Romans 8:31-39
V. The vindication of God’s righteousness chs. 9-11
A. Israel’s past election ch. 9
1. God’s blessings on Israel Romans 9:1-5
2. God’s election of Israel Romans 9:6-13
3. God’s freedom to elect Romans 9:14-18
4. God’s mercy toward Israel Romans 9:19-29
5. God’s mercy toward the Gentiles Romans 9:30-33
B. Israel’s present rejection ch. 10
1. The reason God has set Israel aside Romans 10:1-7
2. The remedy for rejection Romans 10:8-15
3. The continuing unbelief of Israel Romans 10:16-21
C. Israel’s future salvation ch. 11
1. Israel’s rejection not total Romans 11:1-10
2. Israel’s rejection not final Romans 11:11-24
3. Israel’s restoration assured Romans 11:25-32
4. Praise for God’s wise plans Romans 11:33-36
VI. The practice of God’s righteousness Romans 12:1 to Romans 15:13
A. Dedication to God Romans 12:1-2
B. Conduct within the church Romans 12:3-21
1. The diversity of gifts Romans 12:3-8
2. The necessity of love Romans 12:9-21
C. Conduct within the state ch. 13
1. Conduct towards the government Romans 13:1-7
2. Conduct toward unbelievers Romans 13:8-10
3. Conduct in view of our hope Romans 13:11-14
D. Conduct within Christian liberty Romans 14:1 to Romans 15:13
1. The folly of judging one another Romans 14:1-12
2. The evil of offending one another Romans 14:13-23
3. The importance of pleasing one another Romans 15:1-6
4. the importance of accepting one another Romans 15:7-13
VII. Conclusion Romans 15:14 to Romans 16:27
A. Paul’s ministry Romans 15:14-33
1. Past labors Romans 15:14-21
2. Present program Romans 15:22-29
3. Future plans Romans 15:30-33
B. Personal matters ch. 16
1. A commendation Romans 16:1-2
2. Various greetings to Christians in Rome Romans 16:3-16
3. A warning Romans 16:17-20
4. Greetings from Paul’s companions Romans 16:21-24
5. A doxology Romans 16:25-27
|Sequence of Paul’s Activities|
|Birth in Tarsus||Acts 22:3|
|Early life and theological education in Jerusalem under Gamaliel||Acts 22:3|
|34||Participation in Stephen’s stoning outside Jerusalem||Acts 7:57 to Acts 8:1|
|34||Leadership in the persecution of Christians in Jerusalem||Acts 9:1|
|34||Leadership in the persecution of Christians beyond Jerusalem to Damascus||Acts 9:2|
|34||Conversion on the road to Damascus||Acts 9:3-17|
|34||Baptism in Damascus||Acts 9:18|
|34||Preaching in Damascus||Acts 9:19-22|
|34||Trip to Arabia||Galatians 1:17|
|34||Return to Damascus||Galatians 1:17|
|37||Trip to Jerusalem||Acts 9:26; Galatians 1:18|
|37||Meeting with Peter and James and preaching in Jerusalem||Acts 9:27-29; Galatians 1:18-19|
|37||Trip to Tarsus via Caesarea||Acts 9:30; Galatians 1:21|
|37-43||Ministry in and around Tarsus||Acts 11:25|
|37-43||Caught up to the third heaven||2 Corinthians 12:2-4|
|43||Move to Antioch of Syria on Barnabas’ invitation||Acts 11:26|
|43||Ministry in Antioch of Syria||Acts 11:26|
|47||Trip to Jerusalem with Barnabas and Titus to deliver a famine relief gift||Acts 11:30; Galatians 2:1-10|
|47||Return to Antioch||Acts 12:25|
|47-48||Continued ministry in Antioch||Acts 13:1-3|
|48-49||First missionary journey with Barnabas and John Mark||Acts 13:4 to Acts 14:27|
|48||Ministry in Cyprus||Acts 13:4-12|
|48||Voyage to Asia Minor||Acts 13:13|
|48||Separation from John Mark who departed at Perga||Acts 13:13|
|48||Ministry at Pisidian Antioch||Acts 13:14-52|
|48-49||Ministry at Iconium||Acts 14:1-5|
|49||Ministry at Lystra||Acts 14:8-19|
|49||Ministry at Derbe||Acts 14:20-23|
|49||Return to Attalia||Acts 14:24-25|
|49||Return to Syrian Antioch||Acts 14:26|
|49||Ministry in Syrian Antioch||Acts 14:27 to Acts 15:2|
|49||Rebuke of Peter||Galatians 2:11-14|
|Sequence of Paul’s Activities (cont.)|
|49||Writing of Galatians|
|49||Trip to Jerusalem with Barnabas via Phoenicia and Samaria||Acts 15:3|
|49||Jerusalem Council||Acts 15:4-29|
|49||Return to Syrian Antioch with Barnabas, Silas, and Judas||Acts 15:22; Acts 15:30|
|49||Separation from Silas and Judas who returned to Jerusalem||Acts 15:31-33|
|49-50||Ministry in Syrian Antioch||Acts 15:35|
|50||Division of opinion with Barnabas over John Mark||Acts 15:36-39|
|50||Separation from Barnabas and John Mark who returned to Cyprus||Acts 15:39|
|50-52||Second missionary journey with Silas and others||Acts 15:40 to Acts 18:22|
|50||Ministry in Syria and Cilicia||Acts 15:41|
|50||Ministry in Derbe and Lystra||Acts 16:1 a|
|50||Partnership with Timothy who joined Paul and Silas||Acts 16:1-3|
|50||Ministry in other Galatian churches||Acts 16:4-6|
|50||Exclusion from Asia and Bithynia||Acts 16:7-8|
|50||Macedonian vision at Troas||Acts 16:9-10|
|50||Voyage from Troas to Samothrace to Neapolis with Luke||Acts 16:11|
|50||Ministry in Philippi||Acts 16:12-40|
|50||Separation from Luke who remained at Philippi||Cf. "we" in Acts 16:12 with "they" in Acts 17:1|
|50-51||Ministry in Thessalonica||Acts 17:1-9|
|51||Ministry in Berea||Acts 17:10-15|
|51||Separation from Silas and Timothy who remained in Berea||Acts 17:14|
|51||Ministry in Athens||Acts 17:16-34|
|51||Ministry in Corinth||Acts 18:1-17|
|51||Association with Aquilla and Priscilla||Acts 18:2-3|
|51||Reunion with Silas and Timothy||Acts 18:5|
|51||Writing of 1 and 2 Thessalonians|
|52||Trip to Ephesus with Aquilla and Priscilla||Acts 18:18|
|52||Separation from Aquilla and Priscilla who proceeded to Syria||Acts 18:18-19|
|52||Ministry in Ephesus||Acts 18:19-21|
|52||Return to Syrian Antioch via Caesarea and Jerusalem||Acts 18:21-22|
|52-53||Layover in Syrian Antioch||Acts 18:23 a|
|Sequence of Paul’s Activities (cont.)|
|53-57||Third missionary journey||Act_18:23 to Act_21:19|
|53||Ministry in Galatia||Acts 18:23 b; Acts 19:1|
|53||Apollos’ ministry in Ephesus||Acts 18:24|
|53||Aquilla and Priscilla’s ministry to Apollos||Acts 18:26|
|53||Apollos’ ministry in Achaia||Acts 18:27-28|
|53-56||Ministry in Ephesus and Asia||Acts 19:1 to Acts 20:1|
|53-56||Writing of the “former letter” to Corinth||1 Corinthians 5:9|
|56||Writing of 1 Corinthians|
|56||The “painful visit’ to Corinth and return||2 Corinthians 2:1; 2 Corinthians 12:14; 2 Corinthians 13:1-2|
|56||Writing of the “severe letter” to Corinth||2 Corinthians 2:3-4; 2 Corinthians 7:8-12; 2 Corinthians 12:17-19|
|56||Sending of Timothy and Erastus to Macedonia||Acts 19:22|
|56||Trip to Troas from Ephesus|
|56||Wait for Titus|
|56||Trip to Macedonia from Troas||Acts 20:1|
|56||Reunion with Titus in Macedonia|
|56||Writing of 2 Corinthians|
|56||Ministry in Macedonia||Acts 20:2|
|56||Ministry in Greece (Achaia and Corinth)||Acts 20:2-3|
|56-57||Writing of Romans|
|57||Return to Macedonia and Philippi with Sopater, Aristarchus, Secundus, Gaius, Timothy, Tychicus, Trophimus, and Luke||Acts 20:3-4|
|57||Trip of his companions except Luke to Troas||Acts 20:5|
|57||Trip to Troas with Luke||Acts 20:6|
|57||Ministry at Troas||Acts 20:7-12|
|57||Trip to Assos by land while Luke and another brother travel by ship||Acts 20:13|
|57||Trip to Miletus by ship with Luke and the other brother||Acts 20:14-16|
|57||Ministry at Miletus||Acts 20:17-38|
|57||Trip from Miletus to Caesarea with Luke and the other brother via Tyre||Acts 21:1-7|
|57||Ministry at Caesarea||Acts 21:8-14|
|57||Trip to Jerusalem||Acts 21:15-16|
|57||Ministry at Jerusalem||Acts 21:17 to Acts 23:30|
|57||Report to the church||Acts 21:17-26|
|57||Arrest in the temple||Acts 21:27-40|
|57||Speech in the temple courtyard||Acts 22:1-21|
|57||Imprisonment in Jerusalem||Acts 22:22 to Acts 23:30|
|Sequence of Paul’s Activities (cont.)|
|57||Trip to Caesarea||Acts 23:31-35|
|57-59||Ministry in Caesarea||Acts 24:1 to Acts 26:32|
|57||Defense before Felix||Acts 24:1-27|
|59||Defense before Festus||Acts 25:1-12|
|59||Defense before Agrippa and Festus||Acts 26:1-32|
|59-60||Journey to Rome with Luke and Aristarchus||Acts 27:1 to Acts 28:16|
|59||Trip to Crete||Acts 27:1-13|
|59-60||Ministry on Malta||Acts 28:1-10|
|60||Trip from Malta to Rome||Acts 28:11-16|
|60-62||Ministry in Rome||Acts 28:16-31|
|60-62||Writing of the Prison Epistles|
|62||Release from Rome|
|62||Return to the Aegean area|
|62-66||Writing of 1 Timothy and Titus|
|67-68||Imprisonment in Rome|
|67||Writing of 2 Timothy|
|68||Martyrdom in Rome|
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