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Bible Commentaries

McGarvey's Commentaries on Selected Books

Romans

- Romans

by John McGarvey

INTRODUCTION TO THE EPISTLE

Paul had long wished to visit Rome, and to preach the gospel at this center and seat of earthly power and government. He wished to so dispose the church at Rome towards himself and his work that he might use it, in part at least, as a base for his operations in the regions of the far West (Romans 15:24). But he had not been able as yet to visit Rome (Romans 1:10-13); so, during his three months’ stay in Corinth (Acts 20:3), when he was gathering the offering for Judæa (Romans 15:25-26), apparently finding that Phoebe, a member of the near-by church at Cenchræa, the port of Corinth, was about to depart for Rome (Romans 16:1-2), he determined to improve the occasion by writing this Epistle, which would accomplish many of the purposes of a visit. The Epistle would forearm the disciples against the slanderous misrepresentations of his enemies, and would prepare them to be improved and benefited by his visit, for he still planned to visit them after going to Jerusalem (Acts 1:21; Acts 15:23-28). The place, therefore, from which the Epistle was written, was Corinth; and the time, the early spring of A. D. 58; for it is a well-known fact that Paul left Corinth early enough to reach Jerusalem by Pentecost of that year (Acts 20:16). The Epistle, then, was written when Paul was in the prime and vigor of his manhood, and when his activities in the ministry were most fully exercised, and when the new religion of Christ was assuming its supremacy over all known forms of worship. No wonder, therefore, that Paul produced on this occasion a letter which Coleridge has rightly described as "the most profound work in existence." As to the origin of the church to which he wrote, we have no data. It is evident from Paul’s Epistle that, up to the time of writing it, he had never visited Rome, and this accords with the general trend of the Book of Acts, and the special statement of Acts 23:11 . Paul’s silence as to Peter argues very strongly that that apostle also had not yet been in Rome--if he was ever there. Indeed, the silence of Scripture as to the origin of that church, if rightly considered, forbids the assumption that any of the apostles participated in the initial preaching at the great metropolis. Possibly pilgrims, converted at the ever memorable Pentecost, carried the gospel back with them, and sowed the first seed (Acts 2:10). Or, those scattered by the persecutions which arose at the death of Stephen, and which raged subsequently in Judæa, may have eventually traveled as far as Rome, and preached the truth there. Or, more likely still, those who resorted to Rome in the ordinary way of travel or business may have founded this church, for it was afterwards filled with such sojourners, many of whom were Paul’s friends, acquaintances and fellow-workers, as is shown by his salutations in the last chapter. But, however the church had started, it was now strong and influential and had a world-wide fame (Romans 1:8). It is also apparent that while it contained, as did all the others, many Jews (Romans 16:7; Romans 16:11), the church was largely Gentile. This is obvious from the habitual tone of the Epistle (chaps. 1, 5, 6, 13, 14; Romans 11:13-24; Romans 14:1-15; Romans 16:3-27; and also from the narrative at Acts 28, especially verse 28). Had the Roman church been composed principally of Jews, the apostle to the Gentiles, while interested in it, would not likely have felt sufficiently responsible for it to have written to it when most of its members were strangers to him. His own words suggest so much (Romans 15:14-16). Moreover, the teaching of the church would have been strongly Judaic if the Jews had preponderated; whereas it was unquestionably pronounced in its Pauline purity of doctrine (Romans 16:17-20). While, therefore, this Epistle discusses the same general theme handled in the Epistle to the Galatians, it is didactic and not polemic in its style. Though Paul would not have written to strangers in the same tone that he employed in addressing his own erring, backsliding converts, yet he would certainly have employed a far different style than that which characterizes this Epistle, had Judaizers corrupted the church at Rome as they did those churches in Galatia and Corinth. The purpose of the Epistle, aside from that of preparing the church for his visit, is easily discovered. The Judaizing tendencies which had recently appeared in Corinth and Galatia were sure eventually to appear in other churches, perhaps ultimately in all, and the attitude assumed by a church already so influential and destined to increase in power was sure to carry great weight in deciding the controversy. Therefore, to set the church of Rome right as to the design and nature of the gospel was a work of supreme importance, and the great letter from the great apostle to the great church on the question of the hour would be read with interest and profit by the entire brotherhood. The purpose of the letter is to set forth, as Baur rightly expresses it, "both the relation of Judaism and heathenism to each other, and the relation of both to Christianity;" primarily, for the instruction of the Christians in Rome, and, secondarily, for the benefit of all the churches by the establishment of peace between their Jewish and Gentile elements, and, ultimately, for the enlightening of the kingdom of God in all ages. Paul’s Jewish enemies had, as we have seen, already been busy in slandering and misrepresenting him even in churches which he had founded. They made the apostle feel the limitation of travel, and, no doubt, caused him to desire that he might multiply himself, so as to be in many places at once. Within a few days after this Epistle was written Paul began that journey wherein it was testified to him in every city he passed through that bonds and imprisonment awaited him in Jerusalem; so it is highly probable that he already had a prophetic premonition of his coming temporary inability to visit the churches and correct, by his presence, as at Corinth, the falsehood circulated in his absence. Therefore, to establish the churches in the truth, and to preserve his own salutary influence over them, how needful it was that he have an Epistle to speak for him in those coming days of confinement, and that his friends have in their possession his true preaching, that they might have "wherewith to answer them" who misrepresented him and his teaching. And of all Epistles, which could better serve his purpose than one addressed to the Romans, who were at the center of all earthly influences? That the Epistle is authentic is conceded even by Baur. It was quoted by Clement of Rome before the end of the first century; and in the second century by Ignatius, Polycarp, Justin Martyr and Irenæus; and the Muratorian Fragment, A. D. 170, places it in the catalogue of Paul’s Epistles. Its genuineness, too, is practically universally conceded, save that the Tubingen critics, with their usual zeal and eagerness to cast doubt upon any portion of the Scripture, have questioned the last two chapters, or rejected them. The reasons for doing this are not weighty. The chapters are called in question, not because they are omitted from any manuscripts now known, but from certain that are mentioned by the Fathers. But those who tell us of these mutilated copies (Tertullian, and especially Origen) also inform us that that arch-heretic, Marcion, was the offender who thus abbreviated them, and that he did so for the reason that he found in them passages which he wished to suppress because they conflicted with his own erroneous teaching. Surely the knife of Marcion should cast no more doubt over the Epistle of Paul than that of Jehoiakim did over the writings of Jeremiah. As a simple analysis of the book, we submit the following: PART I. DOCTRINAL. The universal need of righteousness satisfied by the gospel, as is shown by the manifold results emanating from gospel righteousness and justification (1:1-8:39). SUBDIVISION A. Introductory. Salutation and personal explanation (Romans 1:1-15). Righteousness by the gospel (Romans 1:16-17). SUBDIVISION B. Universal need of righteousness. Need of righteousness by the Gentiles (Romans 1:18-32). Need of righteousness by the Jews (Romans 2:1-29). Jewish privilege does not diminish guilt, and the Scriptures include both Jew and Gentile alike under sin (Romans 3:1-20). SUBDIVISION C. Universal need of righteousness satisfied by the gospel proclamation of righteousness by faith. Neither Jew nor Greek can obtain righteousness otherwise than by the gospel (Romans 3:21-31). The gospel method of justification, exemplified in the cases of Abraham and David, must be applied both to the legal and spiritual seed of Abraham (Romans 4:1-25). SUBDIVISION D. Results of Christ’s life discussed, and shown to be capable of as limitless universality as the results of Adam’s life. Results of the justification wrought by Christ, viz.: peace, hope, love and reconciliation (Romans 5:1-11). Adam, the trespasser unto death, contrasted with Christ, the righteous unto life (Romans 5:12-21). SUBDIVISION E. Sanctification of the believer required, and obtained in change of relationship by the gospel. Justification is brought about by such a relation to Christ as creates an obligation to be dead to sin and alive to righteousness, as is symbolically shown by baptism (Romans 6:1-14). Justification results in a change from service of law and sin, with death as a reward, to the service of grace and righteousness, with life as a reward (Romans 6:15-22). Change of relationship from law to Christ illustrated (Romans 7:1-6). The sense of bondage which comes through the relationship of the law prepares the soul to seek deliverance through relationship to Christ (Romans 7:7-25). The new relationship to Christ changes the mind from carnal to spiritual, so that we escape condemnation and obtain life (Romans 8:1-11). The new relationship to Christ results in adoption, the spirit of adoption, and that heirship for the revelation of which creation groans (Romans 8:12-25). The new relationship results in the aid of the Spirit, and the blissful assurance of salvation, because it is divinely decreed (Romans 8:26-39). PART II. EXPLANATORY. The doctrine of righteousness by faith reconciled to (1) the promises made to Israel; (2) the election of that people, and (3) the faithfulness of God (9:1-11:36). Mourning for Israel (Romans 9:1-15). The rejection of Israel not inconsistent with God’s promise, which has been kept to those to whom it was given (Romans 9:6-13). The rejection of Israel not inconsistent with the justice of God (Romans 9:14-18). God’s absolute power asserted, his justice and mercy vindicated, and his course in rejecting the Jews not inconsistent with prophecy (Romans 9:19-29). Gentiles following the law of faith contrasted with Jews following the law of works (Romans 9:30-33). Jews responsible for their rejection, since they had an equal chance with the Gentiles of being accepted (Romans 10:1-13). Righteousness comes by faith, and faith comes by that hearing as to which Jews and Gentiles had equal opportunity (Romans 10:14-21). The casting-off of Israel not so complete as supposed, a remnant being saved by faith (Romans 11:1-10). Salutary results of the temporary fall and future rise of Israel. Gentiles warned not to glory over Israel (Romans 11:11-24). Jews and Gentiles having each passed through a like season of disobedience, a like mercy shall be shown to each (Romans 11:25-32). Ascriptions of praise to God for his ways and judgment (Romans 11:3-36). PART III. HORTATORY. Various duties enjoined, and mutual toleration enforced (12:1-14:23). Self-dedication besought, and self-conceit discouraged (Romans 12:1-8). A galaxy of virtues (Romans 12:21). Concerning governments, love and approaching salvation (Romans 13:1-14). Forbearance towards scruples, refraining from judging, sacrifice for others (Romans 14:1-21). PART IV. SUPPLEMENTARY. Concluding exhortations and salutations (15:1-16:27). Exhortations to mutual helpfulness. The Gentiles to glorify God (Romans 15:1-13). The apostle’s ministry and plans. Request for prayers (Romans 15:14-33). Commendation of Phoebe. Salutations. Warnings against dissension and apostasy. Benediction (Romans 16:1-25).