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Bible Commentaries

Dr. Constable's Expository Notes

Romans

- Romans

by Thomas Constable

Introduction

WRITER

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.]

RECIPIENTS

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.]

PURPOSES

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.]

GENRE

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.]

CHARACTERISTICS

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.

VALUE

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.]

OUTLINE

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

 

 

Appendix

Sequence of Paul’s Activities
DateEventReference
Birth in TarsusActs 22:3
Early life and theological education in Jerusalem under GamalielActs 22:3
34Participation in Stephen’s stoning outside JerusalemActs 7:57 to Acts 8:1
34Leadership in the persecution of Christians in JerusalemActs 9:1
34Leadership in the persecution of Christians beyond Jerusalem to DamascusActs 9:2
34Conversion on the road to DamascusActs 9:3-17
34Baptism in DamascusActs 9:18
34Preaching in DamascusActs 9:19-22
34Trip to ArabiaGalatians 1:17
34Return to DamascusGalatians 1:17
37Trip to JerusalemActs 9:26; Galatians 1:18
37Meeting with Peter and James and preaching in JerusalemActs 9:27-29; Galatians 1:18-19
37Trip to Tarsus via CaesareaActs 9:30; Galatians 1:21
37-43Ministry in and around TarsusActs 11:25
37-43Caught up to the third heaven 2 Corinthians 12:2-4
43Move to Antioch of Syria on Barnabas’ invitationActs 11:26
43Ministry in Antioch of SyriaActs 11:26
47Trip to Jerusalem with Barnabas and Titus to deliver a famine relief giftActs 11:30; Galatians 2:1-10
47Return to AntiochActs 12:25
47-48Continued ministry in AntiochActs 13:1-3
48-49First missionary journey with Barnabas and John MarkActs 13:4 to Acts 14:27
48Ministry in CyprusActs 13:4-12
48Voyage to Asia MinorActs 13:13
48Separation from John Mark who departed at PergaActs 13:13
48Ministry at Pisidian AntiochActs 13:14-52
48-49Ministry at IconiumActs 14:1-5
49Ministry at LystraActs 14:8-19
49Ministry at DerbeActs 14:20-23
49Return to AttaliaActs 14:24-25
49Return to Syrian AntiochActs 14:26
49Ministry in Syrian AntiochActs 14:27 to Acts 15:2
49Rebuke of PeterGalatians 2:11-14
Sequence of Paul’s Activities (cont.)
DateEventReference
49Writing of Galatians
49Trip to Jerusalem with Barnabas via Phoenicia and SamariaActs 15:3
49Jerusalem CouncilActs 15:4-29
49Return to Syrian Antioch with Barnabas, Silas, and JudasActs 15:22; Acts 15:30
49Separation from Silas and Judas who returned to JerusalemActs 15:31-33
49-50Ministry in Syrian AntiochActs 15:35
50Division of opinion with Barnabas over John MarkActs 15:36-39
50Separation from Barnabas and John Mark who returned to CyprusActs 15:39
50-52Second missionary journey with Silas and othersActs 15:40 to Acts 18:22
50Ministry in Syria and CiliciaActs 15:41
50Ministry in Derbe and LystraActs 16:1 a
50Partnership with Timothy who joined Paul and SilasActs 16:1-3
50Ministry in other Galatian churchesActs 16:4-6
50Exclusion from Asia and BithyniaActs 16:7-8
50Macedonian vision at TroasActs 16:9-10
50Voyage from Troas to Samothrace to Neapolis with LukeActs 16:11
50Ministry in PhilippiActs 16:12-40
50Separation from Luke who remained at PhilippiCf. "we" in Acts 16:12 with "they" in Acts 17:1
50-51Ministry in ThessalonicaActs 17:1-9
51Ministry in BereaActs 17:10-15
51Separation from Silas and Timothy who remained in BereaActs 17:14
51Ministry in AthensActs 17:16-34
51Ministry in CorinthActs 18:1-17
51Association with Aquilla and PriscillaActs 18:2-3
51Reunion with Silas and TimothyActs 18:5
51Writing of 1 and 2 Thessalonians
52Trip to Ephesus with Aquilla and PriscillaActs 18:18
52Separation from Aquilla and Priscilla who proceeded to SyriaActs 18:18-19
52Ministry in EphesusActs 18:19-21
52Return to Syrian Antioch via Caesarea and JerusalemActs 18:21-22
52-53Layover in Syrian AntiochActs 18:23 a
Sequence of Paul’s Activities (cont.)
DateEventReference
53-57Third missionary journeyAct_18:23 to Act_21:19
53Ministry in GalatiaActs 18:23 b; Acts 19:1
53Apollos’ ministry in EphesusActs 18:24
53Aquilla and Priscilla’s ministry to ApollosActs 18:26
53Apollos’ ministry in AchaiaActs 18:27-28
53-56Ministry in Ephesus and AsiaActs 19:1 to Acts 20:1
53-56Writing of the “former letter” to Corinth1 Corinthians 5:9
56Writing of 1 Corinthians
56The “painful visit’ to Corinth and return2 Corinthians 2:1; 2 Corinthians 12:14; 2 Corinthians 13:1-2
56Writing of the “severe letter” to Corinth2 Corinthians 2:3-4; 2 Corinthians 7:8-12; 2 Corinthians 12:17-19
56Sending of Timothy and Erastus to MacedoniaActs 19:22
56Trip to Troas from Ephesus
56Wait for Titus
56Trip to Macedonia from TroasActs 20:1
56Reunion with Titus in Macedonia
56Writing of 2 Corinthians
56Ministry in MacedoniaActs 20:2
56Ministry in Greece (Achaia and Corinth)Acts 20:2-3
56-57Writing of Romans
57Return to Macedonia and Philippi with Sopater, Aristarchus, Secundus, Gaius, Timothy, Tychicus, Trophimus, and LukeActs 20:3-4
57Trip of his companions except Luke to TroasActs 20:5
57Trip to Troas with LukeActs 20:6
57Ministry at TroasActs 20:7-12
57Trip to Assos by land while Luke and another brother travel by shipActs 20:13
57Trip to Miletus by ship with Luke and the other brotherActs 20:14-16
57Ministry at MiletusActs 20:17-38
57Trip from Miletus to Caesarea with Luke and the other brother via TyreActs 21:1-7
57Ministry at CaesareaActs 21:8-14
57Trip to JerusalemActs 21:15-16
57Ministry at JerusalemActs 21:17 to Acts 23:30
57Report to the churchActs 21:17-26
57Arrest in the templeActs 21:27-40
57Speech in the temple courtyardActs 22:1-21
57Imprisonment in JerusalemActs 22:22 to Acts 23:30
Sequence of Paul’s Activities (cont.)
DateEventReference
57Trip to CaesareaActs 23:31-35
57-59Ministry in CaesareaActs 24:1 to Acts 26:32
57Defense before FelixActs 24:1-27
59Defense before FestusActs 25:1-12
59Defense before Agrippa and FestusActs 26:1-32
59-60Journey to Rome with Luke and AristarchusActs 27:1 to Acts 28:16
59Trip to CreteActs 27:1-13
59ShipwreckActs 27:14-44
59-60Ministry on MaltaActs 28:1-10
60Trip from Malta to RomeActs 28:11-16
60-62Ministry in RomeActs 28:16-31
60-62Writing of the Prison Epistles
62Release from Rome
62Return to the Aegean area
62-66Writing of 1 Timothy and Titus
67Arrest
67-68Imprisonment in Rome
67Writing of 2 Timothy
68Martyrdom in Rome

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