INTRODUCTION AND THEME
It is not known how, or when, the church at Rome was founded, but probably by Jews who received the Gospel in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2). We shall see later that neither Paul nor any other apostle had as yet visited that metropolis, although Paul had a great desire to do so; and it was natural that he should wish to announce before his coming the distinctive truths which had been revealed to and through him. He would desire the Christians in Rome to have his own statement of the great doctrines of grace so assailed everywhere by legalistic (Judaizing) teachers.
He was now in Corinth doubtless on his third missionary journey (Romans 15:22-29), and Phoebe, a deaconess of the church at Cenchrea, the seaport of Corinth, was about to visit Rome (Romans 16:1); a circumstance of which he avails himself to send this letter.
It opens, as is usual in Paul’s epistles, with a greeting or salutation (Romans 1:1-7), in which is given the author’s name and spiritual relation to Jesus Christ, his official designation and the object of it, and an announcement of the church or persons addressed. It is Paul who writes, and he is a bond- servant of Jesus Christ. As such he has been made a messenger of the Gospel of God (Romans 1:1). This Gospel, which means “good news” or “glad tidings,” was not altogether new because it had been promised through the Old Testament prophets (compare Romans 1:2 with Galatians 3:8). It concerned the Son of God, Jesus Christ our Lord, an account of Whose Gracious Person and work follows (Romans 1:3-5). The testimony of this Gospel committed to Paul, was world-wide including them at Rome (Romans 1:5-7).
The salutation is followed by a thanksgiving (Romans 1:8-12) for the “faith” or standing in grace of the church at Rome (Romans 1:8), which leads to an expression of the apostle’s longing to visit them (Romans 1:10); not merely for social reasons, but spiritual benefit (Romans 1:11-12). It is here we learn that he had not visited them before, and that no other apostle had done so, for if so, the “spiritual gift” (Romans 1:11) would doubtless have been imparted; while on the other hand it was a Pauline principle not to build on another man’s foundation (Romans 15:20-21; Romans 2 Corinthians 10:14-16).
The thanksgiving is followed by a statement of the theme of the epistle, for it is more than a personal letter, a treatise, in short, on the great subject that had been committed to Paul (Romans 1:13-17). “Let” (Romans 1:13), is obsolete English, meaning “hindered.” “Barbarian” (Romans 1:14), signifies “foreigner,” the Latins (Rome) were foreigners to the Greeks. “Unwise” is to be taken only in a comparative sense. The Greeks regarded themselves as the “wise” people of the world, cultivated in human philosophy, while all others were unwise by contrast. That which Paul is ready to preach at Rome is the “Gospel” (Romans 1:16), called as we saw in Romans 1:1, “the Gospel of God.” The words “of Christ,” (Romans 1:16), are omitted in the Revised Version. It is the “Gospel of God,” i.e., “the widest possible designation of the whole body of redemptive truth.” This might be called the theme of the epistle, unless we prefer to take that which is the essence of the Gospel as inferred from a later verse, “The Gift of God’s Righteousness.”
This Gospel “is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.” The dynamic He uses to lift men out of the death of sin into the life of righteousness, for “salvation” means just that, including, as another puts it, “the ideas of deliverance, safety, preservation, healing and soundness.’’ And the essence of its power lies in this, that “therein is revealed a righteousness of God by faith unto faith” (Romans 1:17 RV). It is very necessary to understand that phrase “a righteousness of God,” which is the key to the epistle, and does not mean the righteousness which God is in His own nature, but a righteousness which he gives to men freely, on the exercise of their faith in Christ. To quote Lange’s Commentary, it is the righteousness which proceeds from God, i.e., the right relation in which man is placed by a judicial act of God.” Or to quote the Scofield Bible, the righteousness is “Christ Himself, Who fully met in our stead and behalf every demand of the law, and Who is, by the act of God, ‘made unto us... righteousness’ (1 Corinthians 1:30).” As it is written, “He that is righteous by faith shall live” (Habakkuk 2:4).
1. By whom presumably, was the church at Rome founded?
2. Why may Paul have wished to write this letter?
3. What gave him the opportunity to send it?
4. Divide this lesson into three parts.
5. What leads us to think Paul had never visited Rome?
6. What is the theme of the epistle?
7. What other theme is preferred by some?
8. What ideas does the word “salvation” include?
9. Does “righteousness of God” mean what God is, or what God gives?
10. Give the definitions of that phrase in the Scofield Bible.
MAN LOST BY NATURE
We saw in the last lesson that man if he would be saved must become righteous before God, and the righteousness which alone satisfies Him is that which he Himself supplies. We now learn what man’s condition is which makes this a necessity. In other words this lesson, constituting the second general division of the epistle, (1) gives us a Divine declaration about sin (Romans 1:18-21); (2) shows it to be punitive and degenerative in its effects (Romans 1:22-23); and (3) teaches the universality of its extent (2:1-3:20).
As to the Divine declaration about sin, we perceive that not only is there a righteousness from God revealed from heaven, but “a wrath of God” as well. The first gives the remedy, the second the penalty if the remedy is not applied. “Who hold the truth,” might be rendered “who hold down the truth.” That is, the truth of God, whose saving power might be known to men, is held down, does not get a chance to be known, because of man’s unrighteousness (Romans 1:18). This truth might be known by the facts of creation. Not that the Gospel of redemption is revealed in nature, but sufficient of God is thus revealed, i.e., His eternal power and Godhead, “to have kept men true to Him essentially,” so that they are without excuse (Romans 1:20). This is seen in what follows: Man once knew God, the story of Eden shows this; but he is now fallen from God, through his own ingratitude and conceited reasonings. The fall is moral, rather than intellectual, for his “foolish [senseless] heart” is “darkened” (Romans 1:18-21).
Sin at once becomes punitive and degenerative. Observe the downgrade: failure to glorify God; ingratitude; vain reasonings; darkened moral nature; turned into fools; worshipping natural objects, men, birds, beasts, reptiles; given over to uncleanness in the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves (Romans 1:22-25 ff.). The horrible details of this indictment against the Gentile world is established by the “classics” of Greek and Latin literature, showing that these things were true not merely of the low and ignorant, but the high and cultured of Paul’s day.
This thought is now elaborated, which shows the philosophers and moralizers of Greece and Rome to be no better than the others (Romans 2:1-3). They were incapable of judging others; only God could do that, Who is no respecter of persons (Romans 2:6-11). His judgment would be just both as against the Gentiles and .Jews. The former had not the revealed law as did the latter, i.e., they did not have the Old Testament scriptures, but would be judged by the law written in their hearts (Romans 2:12-16).
Special attention is now given the Jews because they had the Old Testament scriptures, and while equally sinful with the pagan Gentiles, were yet trusting in their knowledge of the letter of the law as making them better than they (Romans 2:17-20). The answer assumed in the case of each question in Romans 2:21-23 is affirmative, proven by the concluding verses of the chapter.
Did this mean then, that the Jew had no advantage whatever over the pagan Gentile? No, for the reason in Romans 3:1-2. It was an advantage for the Jew to have the Scriptures even though some did not believe them (Romans 3:3-4). Romans 3:5-8 are parenthetical, with the main question taken up again at 9. The Jews are morally no better as a class than the pagans, proven by the facts of history just alluded to (Romans 3:21-24), and by their own Scriptures (Romans 3:10-18 with Psalms 14:1-3; Psalms 53:1; Psalms 5:9; Psalms 10:7; Psalms 36:1). These were the things which their own “law” said, and said to them as Jews, because the Gentiles did not know the law. Therefore the “mouth,” i.e., the boasting of the Jew was stopped as well as that of the Gentiles, and “all the world.” Jew and Gentile, was “guilty before God” (Romans 3:19). This proved that as the result of the works of the law no man could be accounted righteous before God, for the clearer one apprehended the law the more condemned as a sinner he became (Romans 3:20).
1. What did the previous lesson teach us?
2. What are we to learn from this lesson?
3. Divide this lesson into three general parts.
4. What two great things are revealed from heaven?
5. Why are men without excuse for their ignorance of God?
6. Name some of the steps in the downgrade of sin.
7. What is the bearing of contemporaneous literature on Paul’s indictment of the pagan world?
8. By what two lines of proof are the Jews proven as guilty as the Gentiles?
9. How would you interpret Romans 3:20?
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Gray, James. "Commentary on Romans 1". The James Gray's Concise Bible Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Easter