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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Beet's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament


- Romans

by Joseph Agar Beet


THIS volume is the ninth edition of a work which has been for some years out of print. Its republication has been delayed in order to give time for careful reconsideration of the whole subject. The whole has been rewritten; and embodies the writer’s mature thought about the greatest work of the greatest of the apostles of Christ.

My purpose in writing and rewriting is identical with that of the epistle annotated, as I understand it, viz. to set before the readers the Gospel of Christ as Paul understood it, in order that by intelligent faith they may embrace, or embrace more fully, the salvation announced by Christ, and thus find in Him eternal life: cp. John 20:31. In other words, my aim has been to bridge over nineteen centuries and to place modern English readers as nearly as possible in the position of those who first heard the epistle read at Rome.

It is therefore a contribution to Doctrinal Theology: for Paul wrote in order to set before the Christians at Rome an orderly, and within its limits complete, account of the Gospel. But it is in nowise dogmatic: for my statements and arguments rest, not on authority, but-on evidence adduced. My aim has been simply to learn and reproduce Paul’s own rational conception of Christ and the Gospel. And this is the highest aim of all Biblical research. This volume is also a contribution to Christian Evidences. For Paul wrote and argued in order to produce and strengthen in his readers an intelligent conviction of the truth of the Gospel: and I have endeavoured to reproduce and estimate his arguments.

Whatever is needful for these ends, I have, to the best of my ability, done. I have adduced decisive proof that this letter actually came from the pen of Paul; and that it is fairly reproduced, as he wrote it, in our modern copies, English and Greek. Where the ancient copies differ so as to affect theological teaching, and where serious doubt exists as to the true reading, I have discussed the difference, as in Romans 3:28; Romans 5:1; Romans 8:11. I have also carefully discussed the meaning and associations of thought of the words and phrases of the epistle. These are of utmost importance, as the very alphabet of theology. In the more important cases, the results of this study are embodied in separate notes. I have also endeavoured to trace the apostle’s line of thought and argument, which I have embodied in frequent recapitulations. Throughout the work, I have sought for the general theological conceptions underlying the epistle. This is needful even for correct exposition; for only in the light of a writer’s general conceptions can we understand his language. Moreover the thoughts of Paul, as expressed in his epistles, are one chief avenue of approach to the actual teaching of Christ and to the eternal realities underlying His Gospel. The results of this study, I have embodied in dissertations at the close of this volume.

My chief aid has been careful grammatical study of the Greek text. But it was needless to reprint it: for each student will use his own copy of the Greek Testament or English Bible. The English translation here given was needful in order to explain to scholars how I interpret Paul’s Greek words, and to give to all readers a consecutive text of the epistle. Although the whole work is based on the Greek text, there has been little need for Greek type: for all scholars will recognise my constant reference to the original. This will make my work more helpful to many intelligent men and women who are eager to follow as closely as possible the teaching of Paul but are not familiar with the niceties of Greek grammar. Where the Greek construction is difficult and important, it has been carefully discussed; as in Romans 5:1; Romans 7:21; Romans 9:5 : and occasionally, e.g. on pp. 30, 132,

{Romans 1:1; Romans 4:9 f} I have discussed the meaning of Greek particles.

My aim has led me to give special attention to the doctrinal contents of the epistle, to the broad theological principles which underlay the thought of Paul, and to the historic facts and eternal realities which underlie the Christian faith. This explains the notes on pp. 65f {Romans 1:28 f}, 113f {Romans 3:22 f}, 119f {Romans 3:26 f}, the note on Election on pp. 279-82 (Romans 9:33 f}, and the careful argument in Diss. i.

The whole work is a study in theology at the feet of the great apostle.

In the Grammar of the New Testament, there has been comparatively little progress since the epoch-making work of Winer, first published in 1822, and re-edited in a seventh edition, after his death, by Lunemann in 1867: a recent edition by Schmiedel. We have however an attractive and able Grammar of New Testament Greek by Blass, published in 1896, and in English by Thackeray in 1898; also a most scholarly volume on New Testament Moods and Tenses by De Witt Burton of Chicago. This last is specially good on the meaning and use of the Greek Aorist.

Of modern commentaries, I may still mention those of Fritzsche, 1836-43, and De Wette, 4th ed. 1847, scholarly and accurate expositions, but almost forgotten now. Still more valuable is the great commentary of Meyer, 5th ed. 1872, which is still, as Meyer left it, in my view on the whole the best exposition of the Epistle to the Romans.

Of commentaries published since the first appearance of this work in 1877, I may mention that of Godet, published in 1879, ‘80, marked by keen insight into the apostle’s meaning and great charm of style, but not always reliable in grammatical and critical details; and that of Oltramare, published in 1881, ‘82, careful and scholarly, especially in grammar, but, as I think, less in harmony with the thought of Paul. These works we owe to French Switzerland, their writers having been professors at Lausanne and Geneva respectively.

In 1881 appeared the sober and careful, rather than original, exposition of Gifford in The Speaker’s Commentary. Somewhat earlier, in 1879, came Moule’s attractive exposition in the Cambridge Bible for Schools; and this was followed in 1894 by a profitable and spiritual volume by the same author in The Expositor’s Bible. More recently, in 1895 was published a very attractive and scholarly volume in The International Critical Commentary by Sanday and Headlam, a valuable addition to the literature of the subject, but, like the others just mentioned, rather a careful reproduction of the work of others than an original exposition. I notice with interest that these last editors accept, if I correctly understand them, my exposition of Romans 5:1, an exposition overlooked by all earlier commentators known to me, and by the Westminster Revisers.

Among recent German works, I may mention the re-issue of Meyer’s commentary, rewritten by Weiss, also a careful and scholarly work. The editor has the advantage of recent Textual Criticism; but otherwise I prefer the original. A new edition, the fourth edited by Weiss, appeared in 1899. The exposition by Lipsius, in Holzmann’s Handcommentar, is thoughtful, scholarly, accurate, and lucid. Its compactness leaves little room for statement of the reasons on which the expositor’s judgments are based: but they are always worthy of respectful consideration. On the whole, it is one of the very best works on this epistle.

While this edition was in the press, the second volume of The Expositor’s Greek Testament, containing Dr. Denney’s exposition of Romans, appeared. Within limits somewhat too narrow, he has given us a very accurate, attractive, and valuable work. With great pleasure I notice that, whereas for twenty-three years I have stood alone among English commentators in my exposition of Romans 9:5, except the note by Dr. Hort, in vol. ii. p. 110 of Westcott and Hort’s Greek Testament where he differs from Dr. Westcott, Dr. Denney now stands by my side. But he seems to me in serious error in his note on Romans 8:15, where he says, “The aorist refers to the time of their baptism, when they received the Spirit.” The English preterite suggests a definite time in the past, or at least a time definitely removed from the present. And in this sense Dr. Denney interprets here the Greek aorist. But this last “indefinite” tense has no such definite reference. By using it, Paul asserts only that at some time in the past, suddenly or gradually, his readers received the Spirit of adoption.

This difference between the Greek and English tenses is recognised by our author under Romans 3:23 : but it is overlooked under Romans 8:15; and the oversight is serious.

This work of mine was written, and is now republished, in hope that it may help students of the original text to understand and appreciate the great truths which underlie the grammatical forms of the New Testament, and help also that large and increasing number of men and women in every position in life who wish to drink the water of life as it flows from the pen of those commissioned by Christ to announce the salvation which He wrought out for all who believe Him.




1. As this work is to some extent argumentative, I shall begin it by stating plainly the assumptions on which the argument rests. I do not wish to take for granted the divine authority or supernatural origin of any part of the Bible. The only admissions I require are matters of fact which no one will deny; especially that a letter exists professing to have been written by the apostle Paul to the Christians at Rome; that it exists in various languages, in millions of printed books bearing all dates from the invention of printing to our own day, and in many hundreds of manuscripts preserved in libraries and monasteries and giving various indications of age; and that it is quoted in many ancient writings of which copies have come down to us.

2. Assuming this, we will inquire whether we have sufficient proof that the epistle was actually written by Paul; and to what extent the letter written by him is correctly represented in our English Revised Version. We will consider certain indications in the epistle as to when, and where, and to whom it was written. We will then study the epistle itself. We will try to understand the meaning of the words used, and to trace the writer’s argument. We will carefully observe the facts and doctrines he takes for granted, and the conclusions to which he seeks to bring his readers. As we pass along, we will examine his opinions on several of the matters about which he writes. At the end of our work, we will try to delineate the writer’s view of Christ and the Gospel, as that view is reflected on the pages of this epistle. And, standing by Paul, we will endeavour to see with our own eyes and hear with our own ears the face and the teaching of Jesus.

3. The course of study here begun, I have in other volumes extended to seven other epistles, including all the most important, bearing the name of Paul. By this further study I have endeavoured to gain a still more comprehensive view of the Gospel and of Christ as understood and preached by him. In two other volumes entitled Through Christ to God and The New Life in Christ, I have attempted to give a connected view of the teaching of the Bible on personal religion: and, in another volume entitled The Last Things, I have endeavoured to set forth its teaching about the great events which will close the present order of things, and about the new order which will follow. The whole series is an attempt to gain, as accurately and fully as possible, a knowledge of the eternal realities which in Christ God has revealed to man.


1. We now ask, What proof have we that this letter was actually written by the man whose name it bears? To answer this question, we will summon the witnesses at our command.

2. Of these witnesses, the epistle itself is the earliest and most trustworthy. As we study its pages, we are persuaded that the author, whatever his name and position, was a man of great mental power and moral worth. Everything within us bows down with respect in the presence of one far greater and better than ourselves. The writer claims to be Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ. Apart from the letters attributed to him and the Book of Acts, the name and fame of Paul prove his existence, ability, and influence. This letter, proved by its contents to be a work of a man of worth and power, professes to have been written by Paul, to the Church at Rome, while the author was engaged in active apostolic labour, and before he had been to Rome.

We are driven, by the fact that the epistle exists, to one of three suppositions; either that it was written by someone who deliberately attempted to palm it off as Paul’s; or that the beginning and end were added by a deceiver to a document written by an honest man; or that it is a genuine work of Paul. The impression made on us by the moral tone of the epistle makes the first supposition exceedingly difficult. The second is not quite so unlikely. To decide between the second and third, we must call other witnesses.

3. PRINTED BIBLES are found, in various languages, bearing all dates from the present time back to the invention of printing. All contain this epistle, and ascribe it to Paul.

4. Again, in the libraries of Europe are some 500 GREEK MANUSCRIPTS of epistles claiming to be Paul’s, of dates varying from the sixteenth to the fourth century. Some are mutilated, some entire; some contain all, some a part of, the epistles attributed in modern Bibles to Paul. Of these MSS., fragmentary though many of them are, a great majority contain this epistle. We find also a still larger number of LATIN MSS. of the same epistles.

Some are as old as the sixth century. Most of them have this epistle. Going further from home, we meet in the East with scattered Churches which in the fifth century were broken off from the rest of Christendom. The Nestorians amid the lonely wilds of the Turko-Persian frontier and on the coasts of Southern India, the Jacobites in Egypt and Syria, and the Maronites on the slopes of Lebanon, have lingered to our day, separated from each other and from the rest of the Christian Church. Yet all have ancient MSS. of the Bible in the language of the early Syrian Christians. They all hold as genuine the Epistle to the Romans. Their long and melancholy isolation proves that, before their secession in the fifth century, the epistle existed, and was received as Paul’s. Similar testimony is borne by other ancient Churches in Egypt, Armenia, and Abyssinia.

These MSS. prove that the epistle existed in the fourth century. The number of them proves that it was held in great esteem. This proof is strengthened by the fewness of written copies of other ancient works. Of the Epistle of Clement, the earliest Christian document after the New Testament, until recently only one mutilated copy was known, that contained in the Alexandrian MS. of the Bible: see below, § iii. 4. In A.D. 1875 another Greek MS., dated A.D. 1056, was found at Constantinople. Some months afterwards a Syriac version of the epistle was found. These three MSS. are the only ancient copies, known to us, of this valuable epistle. The immense number of ancient copies of the Epistle to the Romans reveals its importance in the early Church, and thus confirms its genuineness.

5. In order to continue our search into the ages preceding the oldest MSS., we will call another class of witnesses, the EARLY CHRISTIAN WRITERS.

We have a Church History from the days of Christ to those of Constantine by EUSEBIUS, bishop of Cæsarea in Palestine. In bks. iii. 28, v. 28, vii. 26 he speaks of events in the reign of Gallienus (A.D. 259-270) as occurring in his own time. His testimony therefore carries us some years beyond the oldest existing MSS. In bk. iii. 3 we read, “The epistles of Paul are fourteen, all well known and beyond doubt. It should not, however, be concealed that some have set aside the Epistle to the Hebrews, saying that it was disputed, as not being Paul’s… The same apostle, in the address at the close of the Epistle to the Romans, has among others made mention also of Hermas… Let this suffice for the present, to show what books were disputed, what admitted by all, in the Sacred Scriptures.” See also bk. iii. 25. Eusebius admits disputes about the authorship of some of the books of the N.T., but declares that there were none about this.

6. Of an earlier day we have the voluminous writings of ORIGEN, who lived in Egypt and Palestine, A.D. 186-253. He wrote a commentary on this epistle, as Paul’s, of which a Latin translation has come down to us.

7. Several works are extant of TERTULLIAN, who lived, about A.D. 160-240, at Carthage in North Africa. He frequently quotes this epistle as genuine. See especially his work Against Marcion bk. v. 13-14. He says that Marcion rejected parts of the epistle, because they did not suit his teaching; and argues with him from what even he admitted to be genuine. In so doing, he quotes Romans 1:16; Romans 1:18; Romans 2:2; Romans 2:12; Romans 2:14; Romans 2:16; Romans 2:21; Romans 2:24; Romans 2:29; Romans 5:1; Romans 5:20-21; Romans 7:4; Romans 7:7-8; Romans 7:12; Romans 7:14; Romans 8:3; Romans 8:10-11; Romans 10:2-4; Romans 11:33-35; Romans 12:9; Romans 12:12; Romans 12:16-19; Romans 13:10. Marcion held views utterly opposed to those taught in this epistle; yet he dared not deny its genuineness. Tertullian appeals (Presc. against Heretics § 36) to the Churches to which Paul wrote, as the present guardians of his letters. “With whom the authentic letters of the apostles are read, uttering the voice and representing the face of each one. Is Achaia near to thee? Thou hast Corinth. If thou art not far from Macedonia, thou hast Philippi, thou hast Thessalonica. If thou art able to go into Asia, thou hast Ephesus. If thou art near to Italy, thou hast Rome.” This appeal reveals the writer’s full confidence that these epistles came from the pen of Paul.

8. We go now to Alexandria, where, till about A.D. 220, we find CLEMENT, of whom we possess important works. He and his writings are mentioned in bks. Philippians 4:11, vi. 6, 13, 14 of Eusebius’ Church History. In his Misc. bk. i. 1, Clement tells us that he learnt the truth in Greece and Italy from noble men who handed to him the apostles’ teaching. Again and again he quotes this epistle as Paul’s. As examples I quote Misc. bk. iii. 3: “The divine apostle who says, O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” Also in ch. 4: “The apostle writes in the Epistle to the Romans, and not as we are slanderously reported, and as some affirm that we say, Let us do evil that good may come. Whose condemnation is just.” Again, in ch. 11: “In the same way Paul writes in the Epistle to the Romans, We that are dead to sin, how shall we still live therein?since our old man is crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, to neither present your members instruments of unrighteousness to sin.

9. Let us now visit Gaul in A.D. 180. We find there IRENÆUS, who has just become bishop of Lyons. His predecessor, Pothinus, has lately been martyred at the age of ninety: Eusebius, Ch. Hist. bk. v. 1. Irenæus has been bearer to Rome of a letter from his own Church, of which a fragment has been (see ch. 4) preserved by Eusebius; and in which he is spoken of as a presbyter of the Church. From his pen we have a valuable work Against Heresies, which is referred to in ch. 5 of Tertullian’s treatise Against the Valentinians. In this work, Irenæus says (bk. iii. 3. 4) that in his youth he sat at the feet of Polycarp, a disciple of the apostle John. Since Polycarp was martyred not later than A.D. 166, and Irenæus was bishop in A.D. 180, his birth cannot have been later, and was probably much earlier, than A.D. 150. He constantly quotes this epistle as Paul’s. Throughout his writings, there is no trace of doubt about its authorship. The reader may refer to bk. iii. 16. 3: “Paul writing to the Romans, Paul an apostle of Jesus Christ, predestined for the Gospel of God, which He promised by His prophets in Holy Scriptures, concerning His Son, who was made of the seed of David according to flesh, who was predestined Son of God in power. And again, writing to the Romans concerning Israel, he says, whose are the fathers, and of whom is Christ according to flesh, who is God over all, blessed for ever.” Also in § 9: “Paul speaking to the Romans says, much more they who obtain the abundance of grace,” and quotes Romans 5:17; Romans 6:3 f; Romans 5:6-10; Romans 8:34; Romans 6:9; Romans 8:11. See also chs. 18. 2, 3, 7; 20. 2, 3; 22. 1, 3. He agrees (in ch. 12. 12) with Tertullian that Marcion rejected parts of this epistle, but admitted the remainder as genuine.

The testimony of Irenæus carries us further back even than his own day. With Tertullian and Clement, he appeals to the unanimous teaching handed down from the apostles. In bk. iv. 27. 1, 2, he tells us that one of his teachers quoted this epistle thus, “and therefore Paul said, If God spared not the natural branches, etc.; “ and says that this teacher had himself listened to the apostles. He speaks (in bk, i. 26. 2) of the Ebionites as rejecting the writings of Paul on the ground that he was an apostate from the Law. From this we learn that some admitted the genuineness, while they denied the authority, of the letters which bore the name of Paul.

10. We have one more witness of the same date. A torn part of an ancient MS. is preserved in the Ambrosian Library at Milan; which from its discoverer is called the FRAGMENT OF MURATORI. Its date is fixed by a reference to Pius, who is said to have been “very lately” bishop of Rome. From Irenæus (bk. iii. 3. 3, 4) we learn that Pius was bishop in the middle of the second century. The fragment must therefore have been written by a contemporary of Irenæus. It gives a full list of Paul’s epistles; and in reference to this epistle says, “He described more fully to the Romans the order of the Scriptures, intimating however that Christ was the chief matter of them.”

11. We have no earlier quotations. An important earlier writer is JUSTIN. But he writes for unbelievers; and therefore does not appeal to books which for them had no authority. We find however, in § 23 of his Dialogue with Trypho, a passage so similar to this epistle that we cannot but think that Justin had seen it: “For also Abraham himself, being in uncircumcision, because of his faith with which he believed God, was justified and blessed, as the Scripture signifies. And he received circumcision for a sign, but not for righteousness.” CLEMENT, who was bishop of Rome at the end of the first century, writes, in ch. 35 of his epistle: “Having cast away from ourselves all unrighteousness and lawlessness, covetousness, debates, malignity and deceit, whisperings and backbitings, hatred of God, pride and boasting, vainglory and want of hospitality. For they who do these things are hateful to God. And not only those who do them, but also they who take pleasure in them.”

12. Such are our witnesses. What does their evidence prove? That in the latter half of the second century, in places so far apart as Carthage, Egypt, and Gaul-we may add by sure inference Greece and Rome-no one, friend or foe, doubted that Paul wrote this epistle. We stand by Irenæus in A.D. 180. He is bishop of Lyons. He has been presbyter under Pothinus: and Pothinus was born in the first century. He gives, in bk. iii. 3. 3, a list of the bishops of Rome from the days of the apostles; and thus reveals his familiarity with the history of that Church. He has himself been a delegate to Rome; and must therefore know the opinion there held about the authorship of this famous epistle. He has learnt the Christian doctrine from the lips of Polycarp and other Christian men. Yet he is utterly unconscious of any difference of opinion on this subject. He says not a word in defence of the genuineness of the epistle: for, where there is no attack, defence is needless. Standing by his side, we catch the words of ancient men on whose lips lingers the echo of an apostle’s voice. We hear the din of controversy which arose even in those early days, if not within, at least around, the sacred courts of the Church of Christ. The contention is hushed for a moment, that old and young, friends and foes, may proclaim with one voice that the Epistle to the Romans was written by the apostle Paul.

We now ask, Could this unanimity have been obtained for a writing partly or altogether forged? Suppose a case. The laws of causation have been set aside; and a bramble has produced the fruit of Paradise: a deceiver has written this epistle. Or, a great and good man has written it; and has left his unnamed offspring to the tender mercies of an ungrateful world. The foundling has escaped the notice of everyone else, and come into the hands of a deceiver; and by him has been wrapped up in the garments of Paul, and brought to Rome. When was it brought? Not during the apostle’s life. For a unanimous tradition asserts that he died at Rome: and his presence there was a safeguard against such imposture. It must then have been brought after his death. It is shown to the members of the Church. No one has heard of it before. Yet it professes to have been sent to them years ago, when Paul was in active work, and before he came to Rome. They ask at once, Where has the letter been all this time? Why have we not seen it before? The details given in Romans 1:15: expose the fraud. That this important work is in the form of a letter to a prominent Church, is thus in some sense a voucher for its genuineness.

In short, we have two results for which we seek causes; the existence of the epistle, and its unanimous reception in the second century. In Paul we have an author worthy of the epistle; and in the epistle a work worthy of Paul. If it came from him, its universal reception is accounted for. If it did not, its reception is a fact for which no sufficient cause can be assigned.

13. As yet we have given only a part of the argument. In other volumes I have made out a case as strong as, or stronger than, the above for the genuineness of the Epistles to the Corinthians and the Galatians. And this evidence supports that which I have just adduced for the Epistle to the Romans. For the same spirit breathes in all. And innumerable coincidences, in phrase and thought, of the epistles one compared with the other and of all as compared with the Book of Acts testify strongly to the truth of all. If all are spurious, a stupendous miracle has been wrought for the deception of mankind. If the others are genuine, we have in them another argument for the genuineness of this.

The argument from the intellectual and moral worth of the epistle, from its coincidences with other epistles and with the Book of Acts, and from the oneness of Paul’s character as depicted in his writings, can be appreciated only by personal study of the New Testament. I have however sought to answer the question of this section at the beginning rather than at the end of the volume, in order that, in approaching the text of the epistle, we may do so with a reasonable certainty that it came from Paul. The reader will do well to refer to this subject after his study of the text. It is further discussed in my other volumes.

14. The strength of the case I have tried to defend has been universally felt. With exceptions unworthy of mention, this epistle has been received by all, from the Ebionites who detested the author but admitted the authorship to modern rationalists who accept the work as genuine but deny the sacred facts so fully believed by its acknowledged author. Of the latter, a conspicuous example is F. C. Baur, who, while denying the resurrection of Christ, admits (The Apostle Paul vol. i. p. 276) that “against these four epistles (see above) not even the slightest suspicion of spuriousness has ever been raised.” That such a writer accepts this epistle as genuine, affords strong presumption that its genuineness cannot be disputed.

Questions of genuineness which have been severely contested are carefully discussed in my volume on the Epistles to the Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians.

15. Let us now review the position gained. What have we proved? Simply that Paul wrote the epistle. By a similar argument we might have proved the authorship of the Dialogues of Plato and of the Koran. The inspiration of the writer and the authority of his writings have not been mentioned. We have however gained much. We began our study in order to come near to Christ, that we might learn what He actually taught. In our search we have found a man who professes to have been commissioned by Him to proclaim His Gospel. We can therefore now listen to an apostle’s voice. We stand among the disciples of Paul, and hear what he says about his Master.

We may push the argument one step further. As we listen to Paul, we shall be convinced of his sincerity. His thoughts are too intense to be feigned. The man may be deceived: he is not a deceiver. We shall therefore stand, not merely among the disciples, but within the heart, of Paul. We shall look at Christ as Paul saw Him.


1. We now ask, Is the letter, as Paul wrote it, correctly reproduced in our English Revised Version?

On the title-page of the New Testament (A.V. and R.V.) we read that it was translated out of the Greek. I shall endeavour to show that this epistle was written by Paul in Greek; that, within limits which I shall specify, it is preserved, as he wrote it, in the Greek text underlying the Revised Version; and that the translation is on the whole correct.

2. It might be supposed that a letter to the Roman Church would be written in Latin: but indisputably this was not so. The Latin fathers never claim their own language as the original of any part of the Bible. Augustine complains that, in the early days of the Church, whoever obtained a Greek MS. and knew anything of Greek undertook a translation; and that therefore almost all the Latin copies were different. He adds, “but among the interpretations themselves, let the Italic be preferred before others:” Christian Doctrine bk. ii. chs. 11, 15. The best was therefore a translation. Such was the variety of the Latin copies that in A.D. 382 Damasus, bishop of Rome, committed to Jerome the task of revision. Jerome published the Gospels in A.D. 384. In his preface he says to Damasus, “Thou urgest me to make a new work out of an old one, to sit as arbiter on copies of the Scriptures scattered throughout the world; and, because they vary amongst themselves, to determine which are they which agree with the Greek truth.” This proves that the Greek copies were the standard with which the Latin were to be compared. Moreover, that the epistle was written not in Latin but in Greek, is put beyond doubt by a comparison of the Greek and Latin copies. In the Latin we constantly find the same thought expressed in different ways: in the Greek, the variations are nearly all such as would naturally arise from the mistakes of a copyist.

The use of the Greek language in this letter was justified by its great prevalence in Rome. This is testified by many writers; and by the MSS. found among the ruins of Herculaneum, which are, I believe, nearly all Greek. Most of the early bishops of Rome bear Greek names.

3. We now ask, To what extent does the Greek text underlying our Revised Version reproduce the epistle as Paul wrote it? To answer this question, we summon again the witnesses who gave evidence about the genuineness of the epistle. We have the Greek MSS., the ancient versions, and the many quotations from early Christian writers. If these witnesses, so various in origin and form, agree, their agreement is complete proof that they are correct copies of one original. If they differ, we must examine the kind and extent of their difference.

4. The GREEK MSS. are of two kinds; uncials in capital letters, and cursives in running hand. Roughly speaking, the uncials are earlier, and the cursives later, than A.D. 1000.

Eleven uncials of this epistle are known. The most famous are, the Vatican MS. at Rome; the Sinai MS. found by Tischendorf in A.D. 1859 in the monastery at Sinai, and now preserved at St. Petersburg; and the Alexandrian MS. presented in A.D. 1628 by the patriarch of Constantinople to Charles I., and now in the King’s Library at the British Museum. This last was written probably in the fifth, and the other two in the fourth, century. They are written on beautiful vellum, and each forms a thick 4to volume some 10 in. to 14 in. square. They have two, three, or four columns on a page. The letters follow each other without any separation into words; and there are very few stops. Corrections by later hands are found in all. Each of them contains a large part of the Old Testament and Apocrypha, all in Greek. The Alex. and Vat. MSS. contain the greater part, and the Sinai MS. the whole, of the New Testament. Not less interesting is the Ephraim MS., in the Imperial Library at Paris. By a strange sacrilege, the writing of the Scriptures was erased to make room for the works of Ephraim, a Syrian father. Fortunately, the erasure was not perfect. And, by the use of chemicals to restore the defaced writing, and by careful examination, the whole has been deciphered. It contains important fragments of the Old and New Testaments, including part of this epistle; and seems to have been written in the fifth century. Also of great interest is the Clermont MS., of the sixth century, with Greek and Latin on opposite pages. The others are of later date.

In addition to these are hundreds of cursives. Collectively they are of interest as reproducing a later text. But they are of little value as aids to reproduce the original.

5. Another test of the correctness of our copies is furnished by the various ancient VERSIONS. The Syriac, Latin, and Coptic are specially important. The former is written in the language called, in the N.T., Hebrew; of which we have specimens in Matthew 27:46; Mark 5:41; Mark 7:34; Mark 15:34; Romans 8:15; 1 Corinthians 16:22. To distinguish it from the tongue of Moses and Isaiah, we now call it Syriac or Aramaic. It was the mother-tongue of Christ and the apostles. Many MSS. preserved by scattered Syrian Churches have been brought to Europe and examined. The Latin copies are very many, and possess interest as being the only form in which the Bible was accessible to the Western Church during the middle ages. Also of great value is the Coptic or Memphitic version from Lower Egypt. Some other versions of less value have also been examined and compared.

6. The very numerous QUOTATIONS from early Christian writers also contribute to answer our question. They have been collected with more or less care. In most cases, their value as witnesses to the original text is not great. For we possess them only in a few late copies into which errors have crept even more than into the best copies of the New Testament. But there are quotations in which the correct reading is by the context made quite certain. And some of these are most valuable. Of all this, my note on Romans 5:1 supplies instances. Sometimes the writers tell us that the MSS. differed in their day; and not unfrequently they say which reading was then considered the best. Of this, Romans 8:11; 1 Corinthians 15:51 are examples. Such references are always valuable.

7. The testimony of the more important of these witnesses has been carefully weighed and recorded. The earliest Greek copies have been reprinted word for word. And of a larger number we have collations, i.e. published lists of their variations from a commonly accepted standard. Of the Alexandrian and Vatican MSS., there have been published photographs of every page, an almost exact reproduction of the original. These enable the student to become familiar with two of the oldest sacred documents extant. We have also Critical Editions of the Greek Testament, giving not only a revised text, but under each verse the variations of the chief manuscripts and versions, and the more important quotations. Of these, passing over those of an earlier day, I may mention the editions of Lachmann, in A.D. 1842-50, Tischendorf, 8th ed. 1869-72, Tregelles, 1857-70, and of Westcott and Hort in 1881.

8. What then is the testimony of these various witnesses thus carefully interrogated? They reveal, in almost every verse, variations in the ancient copies of the New Testament. But of these a large proportion affect the meaning very slightly or not at all. And very many are proved by the overwhelming weight of contrary testimony to be mere mistakes of copyists. In the edition of Westcott and Hort, vol. i. p. 561, we read: “If comparative trivialities, such as changes of order, the insertion or omission of the article with proper names, and the like, be laid aside, the words in our opinion still subject to doubt can hardly amount to more than a thousandth part of the whole New Testament.”

There are, however, important passages in which our earliest copies vary; and some in which they are almost equally divided This proves that into even these earliest copies errors have crept; and makes possible that the reading found in the larger number is not always correct. In Romans 5:1, some able scholars have ventured to set aside the unanimous verdict of our oldest copies. To detect, amid these variations, the author’s own words, is the important and difficult task of the Textual Criticism of the New Testament. The critic endeavours to retrace the steps by which error has crept into the ancient copies, by searching for the reading most likely to have given rise to existing variations. With this aim, various critics have propounded various modes of procedure, arrived at by their comparison of existing documents, principles which I cannot here expound. The results attained are embodied in the Critical Editions of the Greek Testament, mentioned above, and in other works on the same subject. Where the evidence is not decisive, all editors except Tischendorf put the more probable reading in their text and the less probable in the margin. They thus indicate a preference where confident decision is impossible.

9. From the following lists, which contain all the passages in which the Critical Editors propose or suggest changes of any importance from the text underlying our A.V., the reader may learn how close is the agreement between the results attained in this branch of sacred scholarship, and how narrow is the area still open to doubt.

The following corrections, the Editors propose, without marginal note indicating doubt:—

1. Romans 1:29 : omit fornication.

2. Romans 1:31 : omit implacable 3. Romans 3:22 : omit and upon all.

4. Romans 4:15 : but where instead of for where 5. Romans 4:19 : omit not.

6. Romans 6:12 : omit it in.

7. Romans 6:13 : as if instead of as those that are.

8. Romans 7:6 : having died to that instead of that being dead.

9. Romans 7:18 : is not instead of I find not.

10. Romans 8:1 : omit who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit.

11. Romans 9:31 : omit 2nd of righteousness.

12. Romans 9:32 : omit of law.

13. Romans 9:33 : he that instead of whomsoever.

14. Romans 10:17 : Christ instead of God.

15. Romans 11:6 : omit latter half of verse.

16. Romans 13:9 : omit thou shalt not bear false witness.

17. Romans 14:6 : omit he that regardeth not, etc.

18. Romans 14:9 : came to life instead of rose and revived.

19. Romans 14:10 : God instead of Christ.

20. Romans 14:15 : for instead of but.

21. Romans 15:24 : omit I will come to you.

22. Romans 15:29 : omit of the Gospel.

23. Romans 16:24 : omit the verse.

All the above changes are accepted by the English Revisers, and without note except that in Nos. 3 and 23 they tell us, in my view needlessly, that “some ancient authorities add” or “insert” the rejected words. They may all be accepted with complete confidence.

In the following list, the Editors differ, or express doubt in their margin:—

1. Romans 1:16 : insert or omit first.

2. Romans 2:2 : but we know or for we know.

3. Romans 3:2 : insert or omit for before first.

4. Romans 3:7 : but if or for if.

5. Romans 3:28 : we reckon therefore or for we reckon.

6. Romans 4:19 : insert or omit now.

7. Romans 5:1 : let us have or we have.

8. Romans 5:2 : insert or omit by faith.

9. Romans 6:19 : insert or omit unto iniquity.

10. Romans 7:23 : to the law or in the law.

11. Romans 8:2 : made me free or made thee free.

12. Romans 8:11 : through His Spirit or because of His Spirit.

13. Romans 8:24 : slight alterations.

14. Romans 8:28 : all things work or God works all things.

15. Romans 8:34 : insert or omit from the dead.

16. Romans 8:35 : Christ or God.

17. Romans 9:4 : covenants or covenant.

18. Romans 9:28 : an unimportant omission.

19. Romans 10:5 : an unimportant rearrangement.

20. Romans 10:9 : a slight verbal change.

21. Romans 11:17 : the root of the fatness or the root and the fatness.

22. Romans 14:5 : one man esteems or for one man esteems.

23. Romans 14:12 : insert or omit to God.

24. Romans 14:19 : let us follow or we follow.

25. Romans 14:21 : insert or omit or is ensnared or is weak.

26. Romans 15:19 : Holy Spirit, Spirit of God, or Spirit.

Of the above passages, all except ten are noted in the Revisers margin. Of these ten, eight, viz. Nos. 1, 3, 9, 15, 17, 18, 19, 23, are so unimportant or so slightly attested as to be unworthy of mention in a popular version. The other two, No. 11 and still more No. 22, seem to me to deserve mention. The readings overlooked are much better attested than many in the Revisers’ margin: and they affect perceptibly the course of thought. No. 7, noted in R.V. margin as read by some authorities, has exceedingly slight documentary evidence; but is rightly placed there because of the great interest attaching to it: see my note. Five other variations, Nos. 8, 13b, 14, 16, 20, noted in the margin as read by some ancient authorities, are unimportant or slightly attested. Ten other passages, Nos. 2, 4, 5, 6, 10, 12, 13a, 21, 24, 25, noted as read by many ancient authorities, contain, with Nos. 7, 11, 22, all the variations worthy of serious consideration. On each of these, see my note. The rest of the text underlying the R.V. may be accepted with reasonable confidence as reproducing the actual words of the apostle.

The reading noted by the Revisers in Romans 7:25 is of no importance. In Romans 3:22; Romans 12:11; Romans 14:23; Romans 16:25-27, they seem to me to have needlessly expressed doubt by putting in their margin very weakly supported readings rejected without note by all Critical Editors.

10. Our question is answered. We have examined witnesses from the solitude of the Egyptian desert and from the monasteries of western Europe, from the coast of Malabar and from the shadow of Sinai. Their testimonies agree. Just as the superscription of Pilate, in different languages, yet with one voice, proclaimed the royalty of Christ, so, in the same three languages, these many witnesses proclaim in one great harmony the one Gospel of Peace.

11. Some may ask, If the differences are so small, is not the Textual Criticism of the New Testament a needless study? If the labour spent had done nothing more than prove that the differences are so small, it would be well repaid. But it has produced other results. The corrections of the text, small as they appear, are important. No. 5 of List 1. and Nos. 5 and 6 of List 2. make the argument more clear or the words more forceful. No. 19 of List 1. detects an unfair argument for the divinity of Christ. In other parts of the New Testament, still more important variations are found. In one case, a question of authorship is affected by the changes we are compelled to adopt. In short, every word of Holy Scripture is more precious than gold; and no labour is lost which removes from it a particle of alloy.

12. One question remains. Do our modern versions fairly reproduce the text translated? In asking this question, we must remember that every translation is imperfect. It is a lens which absorbs and deflects, while it transmits, the light. This is specially true of languages far removed in time and circumstances. The words do not correspond: phrases correspond still less. Even such common English words as for and but have no exact equivalents in Greek. In every translation, something is lost in accuracy, clearness, and force. And translations often err, not merely in failing to give the writer’s full meaning, but by putting other thoughts in place of his. We ask then, To what extent does our English Revised Version put before us Paul’s thoughts?

13. A partial answer to our question may be derived from comparison of the Revised Version with its predecessors, especially with the Roman Catholic Version published at Rheims in A.D. 1582 and the Authorised Version published In A.D. 1611. Here are three translations of very different origin. Yet in the main they agree. We find in all the same epistle, the same arguments, the same teaching. The same spirit breathes in all. It is therefore the spirit not of the translator but of the original writer. Those familiar with Latin or German will do still better by comparing the Vulgate as sanctioned by Popes Sixtus V. and Clement VIII. and Luther’s version. The same results will follow. The Trinitarian Bible Society printed a leaflet containing a list of corruptions of the Roman Catholic translations published by the British and Foreign Bible Society. The shortness and unimportance of the list are complete proof that the versions referred to accord substantially with the Protestant versions. And the theological differences of Roman Catholics and Protestants are vouchers for the comparative correctness of that which they agree to accept. I do not say that where these witnesses agree we may rely absolutely upon them; but that they agree in the main, and in the main may be accepted.

14. It is nevertheless true that readers and even writers have not unfrequently fallen into serious errors of doctrine by using only one version of the Bible, e.g. the English Authorised Version. A dangerous mistranslation, only in part corrected in the R.V., is found in A.V. of Hebrews 6:4-6. A good safeguard against such error is the use of various translations. As a second and better translation to put beside the familiar Authorised Version, the Revised Version is of immense value. Another safeguard is the constant comparison of Scripture with Scripture. Hold with great caution any doctrine not frequently taught in the Bible. The Spirit of Inspiration has made provision for defects of translation by giving us the vital truths in many and various forms. A third safeguard is found in the argumentative form of much of the New Testament. The meaning of one statement is often determined by another given in proof. By tracing the line of thought, we shall for the most part be saved from serious error and guided aright. Moreover, all careful study will make us more familiar with the sacred writer’s modes of thought and style of writing. There is no limit to the extent to which a student of the English Bible may lessen the disadvantage of using a translation. This is especially true of those who, desiring to know His will, seek in their study of the Bible the guidance of the Spirit of God. In approaching the Book, they approach God; and through the written word God speaks to them. They recognise each deeper insight into its meaning as a revelation from Him who unveils to the humblest who sit at His feet much which lies concealed from others more educated. In many cases, even the difficulties of the Bible will be an occasion of gratitude to Him who makes the darkness to be light about us.

15. The translation here given is no rival to the Revised Version. Indeed, I have not been careful to give always good idiomatic English. I have sought merely to reproduce in modern English, at any cost of elegance or good grammar, as accurately and as fully as possible the sense of the Greek words used by Paul. Moreover, a translation was needful in order to convey to the reader, especially to those familiar with the original, my interpretation of the grammatical forms there used. It would have been useless to reprint or revise another version. Yet, without a continuous text of the epistle, the volume would have been incomplete. The use of various translations is helpful by teaching us to lean not on the outward form of the Bible but on its inner sense.


1. Of these questions, the first three are less important than those discussed in the foregoing sections. To answer them is no essential part of my argument. Our proof that this epistle expresses the mind of Paul would remain even if we knew not when and where and to whom it was written. At the same time we shall find information on these topics which we cannot afford to neglect. Moreover, to sift details, gives us closer contact with the men and facts of the Bible and a firmer conviction of their reality. It will be so in this case.

2. We may fix the date of a book in reference either to some common era such as the year of our Lord or to other events in the life of the writer. The former method tells us what was taking place in the world at the same time; the latter will connect this letter with whatever else we know of Paul. This latter method we now adopt. The place of the epistle in the Christian era is carefully discussed in Diss. iii. of my volume on Corinthians.

3. Paul tells us, in Romans 1:8-15; Romans 15:23-33, that he has not yet been at Rome, that he is free, on his way to Jerusalem with money collected for the Christians there by those in Macedonia and Achaia. He looks forward to Jerusalem with fear; but hopes to be saved from the Jews and then to go through Rome to Spain. Let us compare this with what he says elsewhere about himself. In 1 Corinthians 16:1 ff (written apparently from Ephesus: see 1 Corinthians 16:8) Paul speaks of the collection as not yet made at Corinth, but hopes to find it ready when he arrives there: he expects to spend some time at Corinth, and then to either take or send the money to Jerusalem. In 2 Corinthians 2:12 f, we find that Paul has left Ephesus and come through Troas to Macedonia. The Macedonian collection is made; that of Achaia, of which province Corinth was the capital, is not yet made: 2 Corinthians 8:1-4; 2 Corinthians 9:1-6. And Paul is on his way to Corinth: 2 Corinthians 9:4; 2 Corinthians 12:20; 2 Corinthians 13:1. Thus, although this epistle does not mention those to Corinth, nor the converse, the three epistles are bound together by a matter common to all. The letter to Rome is evidently later than those to Corinth; but was written while Paul was engaged in the same business.

4. We turn now to the Book of Acts, written probably by a companion of Paul: see Diss. ii. of my Corinthians. It makes no mention of these epistles, nor directly of the collection; and may therefore be looked upon as an independent witness. We will compare the account it gives with the facts already gathered from Paul’s letters. The proposed visit to Jerusalem cannot be later than that recorded in Acts 21:15, which was followed by his arrest. Let us trace his previous course. In Acts 19:21; Acts 20:1, we find him at Ephesus, intending to go through Macedonia and Achaia to Jerusalem, and then to Rome. He goes through Macedonia to Greece, which formed the Roman province of Achaia. After spending three months there, he goes through Macedonia and Miletus to Jerusalem, a circuitous route occasioned by a plot of the Jews. He has been warned of danger at Jerusalem: Acts 20:23. In Acts 24:17, he tells Felix that he came to Jerusalem bringing alms for his nation. Here we have the details gathered from the epistles. We therefore infer that the Epistle to the Romans was written during the journey narrated in Acts 20.

Since, as we learn from Romans 15:26, the collection was already made, Paul must have arrived in Achaia. And it is much more likely that this letter, which bears marks of deliberation, was written during Paul’s three months’ sojourn there than on his journey from Greece to Jerusalem. Now Corinth was the capital of Achaia; the letters to Corinth say that Paul was going there; and communication with Rome was more easy from Corinth than from any other point in Paul’s course. We therefore infer that the epistle was written from Corinth. And this is confirmed by the mention in Romans 16:1 of Cenchreæ, the port of Corinth.

From Acts 20:6 we learn that Paul sailed from Philippi shortly after Easter on his way from Corinth to Jerusalem. He must therefore have been at Corinth during the winter. Romans 15:25 implies that the letter was written almost at the close of his sojourn there. From all this we infer as probable that the Epistle to the Romans was written from Corinth, in the early part of the year in which Paul was arrested at Jerusalem. In Diss. iii. of my Corinthians, I have adduced reasons for believing that the year referred to was A.D. 59, and clear proof that the letter was written early in the reign of Nero.

Notice also that, of the men with Paul when writing, (see Romans 16:21,) Timothy and Sosipater (or Sopater) are mentioned in Acts 20:4 as his companions on his journey towards Jerusalem. Gaius, his host, (see Romans 16:23,) was perhaps the man mentioned in 1 Corinthians 1:14 as belonging to the Church at Corinth. The same name is found in Acts 20:4. But the frequency of the name leaves us uncertain whether it refers to the same man.

5. If the above inferences be correct, this epistle stands in close relation to 1 and 2 Corinthians. That this is actually so, I have proved at some length in Diss. i. of my Corinthians.

A study of these details greatly confirms the genuineness of all three epistles. The coincidences prove that we have here real persons; and that the collection of money and the journey were actually made. All possibility of fraud is taken away by the incidental nature of the references.

6. About the Christians at Rome, to whom the epistle was written, our earliest information is derived from the letter itself. And it is very scanty. The number of persons greeted in Romans 16 :, probably a small part of the whole, suggests a community of some size. The appeal in Romans 2:17 implies a Jewish element; but the general tone of the letter, e.g.

Romans 1:6; Romans 1:13; Romans 11:13, suggests a majority of Gentiles. The Church was famous everywhere: Romans 1:8. But this is partly accounted for by the fact that from every place there was a road to Rome. Some of the members had been long in the faith: Romans 16:7. There are no traces of error among the people. Had there been serious error, it would, from the conspicuous position of the Church, have been known to Paul, and probably referred to in the epistle. The letter suggests a Church of some years’ standing, of stability and importance. This is confirmed by the Roman historian Tacitus, who tells us (Annuals bk. xv. 44) that six years later “an immense multitude” were convicted in Rome of being Christians, and put to death.

7. The origin of the Church at Rome is unknown. During the ministry of Christ, many thousands of Jews lived there. So Josephus, Antiquities bk. xvii. 11. 1: “The number of the ambassadors sent by the authority of the nation was fifty, to which they joined eight thousand Jews that were at Rome already.7” Similarly Philo, On the Virtues of Ambassadors § 23: “The great division of Rome which is on the other side of the Tiber, which was occupied and inhabited by the Jews. And they were mostly Roman citizens, having been emancipated: for, having been brought as captives into Italy, they were emancipated by those who had bought them for slaves… They were in the habit of contributing sacred sums of money from their firstfruits, and sending them to Jerusalem by the hands of those who were to conduct the sacrifices.” They also made proselytes. So Josephus, Antiquities bk. xviii. 3. 5: “Fulvia, a woman of great dignity, and one who had embraced the Jewish religion.”

In Acts 2:10, we find Roman Jews and proselytes at a feast at Jerusalem. It must have been so during our Lord’s lifetime. These pilgrims would probably hear His preaching: and in this way the good seed may have been early carried to Rome. The close connection of the metropolis with other parts of the empire would bring Romans, both Jews and Gentiles, into contact with the Gospel. Of this, the case of Cornelius is an example. Some converted in other places would probably sojourn or settle at Rome. So probably Aquila, one of the Jews banished from Rome by Claudius. For, when Paul first met him, he is spoken of only as “a Jew :”

Acts 18:2. In Romans 16:3-4 we find him again in Rome, holding Christian meetings in his house. Of all places, it was most likely that in Rome the (Gospel would take root even without apostolic help. And this is the simplest explanation of the origin of the Church there.

Irenæus (bk. iii. 3. 2) speaks of “the Church founded and constituted at Rome by the two most glorious apostles Peter and Paul.” But this epistle is complete proof that the Christian community at Rome was not founded by Paul: and this disproof weakens greatly the above statement as proof that it was founded by Peter. All that we can infer is that these apostles laboured at Rome, and thus contributed to the establishment of the Church. The argument, from the silence of the epistle about him, that Peter had not been at Rome when Paul wrote is weakened by the absence in 1 Peter, written to Churches founded by Paul, of any mention of him.

8. We notice that in this epistle Paul lays aside the tone of authority with which he had recently addressed the Churches in Corinth and Galatia, founded by himself. His maxim not to build on another’s foundation (Romans 15:20) seems to have kept him from Rome. He could not go there until he went on his way to countries beyond. This is however no proof that the Church there was founded by another apostle. Other men, apostles, elders, or private Christians, had preached there; and had thus laid a foundation. Paul preferred to preach where Christ was not yet known.

9. We cannot detect in this epistle, as we can in those to the Corinthians and Galatians, any definite occasion prompting its composition. It does not seem to have been written to correct any special error, or to give information on any special subject. But we can easily understand the writer’s purpose. For years he has watched with interest the Roman Church. He sees its importance in relation to the Western world. Many friends at Rome increase this interest. At length he has a prospect of visiting them, but only for a short time. A deaconess of a neighbouring Church is going to Rome. And Paul takes the opportunity of sending a letter which will be an outline, and an authoritative standard, of his teaching, and thus a forerunner of himself. Consequently, this is, of all his letters, the most general and complete. It is the Gospel according to Paul.

The exact aim must be gathered from the epistle itself. An outline is given in the table of contents at the beginning of this volume. Paul’s purpose, as I understand it, is, To-assert, and logically develop, as an organic whole, the good news of salvation announced by Christ, especially in view of the distinction of Jew and Gentile; to show that this good news is in harmony with God’s declarations and conduct as recorded in the Old Testament; and to apply it to matters of secular and of church life.


A few suggestions for method of study may be helpful to the young student.

1. First determine the text of the epistle, i.e. the words actually written by Paul. For the Greek text, note the different readings of the Critical Editions, both where one differs from another and where an editor records his doubt by putting an alternative reading in the margin. This may be easily done by using the editions of Scrivener or Gebhardt or the Stutgard edition. The student of the English Bible may do the same by carefully observing the marginal notes of the Revised Version, especially those marked “Many ancient authorities read.” In § 3, I have given lists of all various readings worthy of consideration.

2. The next step should be to read consecutively and carefully the whole epistle, noting specially its various turning-points. These last are indicated by a manifestly new topic, by a change of tone, and sometimes by the entrance of a new word or by a new grammatical construction. They admit of many gradations of importance, noting primary, secondary, or subordinate divisions of the epistle. For example, in Romans 1:8 Paul passes from a Christian greeting in the third person to matters between himself and his readers in the first person singular and the second person plural. In Romans 1:16, he passes on from these to the great matter of the epistle, viz. the Gospel of salvation for every believer. In Romans 1:18, he turns suddenly from the Gospel to God’s anger against sin which made it needful; and in Romans 3:21 returns to a fuller exposition of the Gospel. These two transitions mark off Romans 1:18 to Romans 3:20 as an integral part of the epistle. Within this last, we note minor transitions, e.g. in Romans 2:1 from men who worship idols, spoken of in the third person plural, to a man who though equally guilty hopes to escape punishment, whom Paul accosts in the second person singular. At Romans 2:12 the word law introduces a new thought, as does circumcision in Romans 2:25. In Romans 3:1, and again in Romans 3:9, a new subordinate topic is introduced by a sudden question.

For an intelligent view of the epistle as a whole, and of each part in its relation to the whole, this analysis of it into primary and subordinate divisions is of utmost importance. An aid to it will be found in the table of contents at the beginning of this volume. The student will notice the beginning and the end, and the main body, of the epistle. In this last, I have marked five divisions. Their titles form a rudimentary outline of it. The titles of the subordinate sections form a longer outline of the whole epistle.

3. After this preliminary survey, the student will concentrate his attention on one section. In so doing, the meaning of its words claims first attention. These are the very alphabet of exposition and of theology. Only by learning the sense in which the sacred writers use their own words, can we follow their thoughts. The meaning of the Greek words must be learnt from their use by earlier Greek writers, still more from their use in the Septuagint version of the Old Testament, in which we find Hebrew thought clothed in Greek forms, and lastly from their use in the New Testament. For all this, a good concordance, English or Greek, is indispensable. A careful comparison of the use of words in the Revised Version of the Old and New Testaments with the help of a concordance will give a wonderfully accurate knowledge of the meaning of Bible words.

The meaning of the words of this epistle has received special attention in this volume. The results are embodied in special notes scattered through my exposition.

After the words, the phrases need careful study. Indeed the teaching of the whole epistle is coloured by the meaning of a phrase used in Romans 1:17; Romans 3:21-22; Romans 10:3.

Our next work is to trace the apostle’s line of thought. For this difficult task we shall need every resource at our disposal, the meaning of the words, inflections, phrases, and a grammatical and logical analysis of sentences. His arguments deserve special study. We must carefully note and distinguish the facts and principles taken for granted, and the inferences drawn from them. From these last we must endeavour to reproduce Paul’s conception of the Gospel and of Christ: and this conception thus reproduced will shed light upon the various parts of the epistle.

4. At the close of this work, in Diss. i., I sum up the results of our study and endeavour to estimate the practical worth of the conception of the Gospel embodied in this epistle. We shall find that the facts and doctrines here assumed are assumed also, in other forms, by the other writers of the New Testament; that the facts assumed will bear the most searching tests of historical criticism; and that the doctrines may be traced by reliable documentary evidence to the lips of Christ. Thus will our study contribute to the exposition and the proof of the Gospel.

A careful study of the words and arguments of this epistle will enrich greatly the student’s own spiritual life. And this spiritual enrichment will shed important light on the meaning of the apostle’s words. For it will enable us to see the matters about which he writes from his own point of view. Access to the inmost sanctuary of Holy Scripture is granted only to those who come to worship.