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Bible Commentaries

Robertson's Word Pictures in the New TestamentRobertson's Word Pictures

- Romans

by A.T. Robertson




It is impossible to put too much emphasis on the life and work of Paul as the great interpreter of Christ. He has been misunderstood in modern times as he was during his career. Some accuse him of perverting the pure gospel of Christ about the Kingdom of God into a theological and ecclesiastical system. He has been accused of rabbinizing the gospel by carrying over his Pharisaism, while others denounce him for Hellenizing the gospel with Greek philosophy and the Greek mystery-religions. But out of all the welter of attacks Paul's Epistles stand as the marvellous expression of his own conception of Christ and the application of the gospel to the life of the Christians in the Graeco-Roman world in which they lived by eternal principles that apply to us today. In order to understand Paul's Epistles one must know the Acts of the Apostles in which Luke has drawn with graphic power the sudden change of the foremost opponent of Christ into the chief expounder and proclaimer of the gospel of the Risen Christ. The Acts and the Epistles supplement each other in a marvellous way, though chiefly in an incidental fashion. It is by no means certain that Luke had access to any of Paul's Epistles before he wrote the Acts, though that was quite possible for the early Epistles. It does not greatly matter for Luke had access to Paul himself both in Caesarea and in Rome. The best life of Paul one can get comes by combining the Acts with the Epistles if he knows how to do it. Paul is Luke's hero, but he has not overdrawn the picture in the Acts as is made clear by the Epistles themselves which reveal his own grasp and growth. The literature on Paul is vast and constantly growing. He possesses a fascination for students of the New Testament and of Christianity. It is impossible here to allude even to the most important in so vast a field. Conybeare and Howson's Life and Epistles of St. Paul still has value. Sir W. M. Ramsay has a small library on Paul and his Epistles. Stalker's masterful little book on Paul still grips men as does the work of Sabatier. Deissmann's St. Paul continues to throw light on the great Apostle to the Gentiles. Those who wish my own view at greater length will find them in my various books on Paul (Epochs in the Life of Paul, Paul the Interpreter of Christ, etc.).


In a real sense Paul's Epistles are tracts for the times, not for the age in general, but to meet real emergencies. He wrote to a particular church or group of churches or persons to meet immediate needs brought to his attention by messengers or letters. Dr. Deissmann contends strongly for the idea of calling Paul's Epistles "letters" rather than "Epistles." He gives a studied literary character to "epistles" as more or less artificial and written for the public eye rather than for definite effect. Four of Paul's Epistles are personal (those to Philemon, Titus, and Timothy) beyond a doubt, but in these which can properly be termed personal letters there are the principles of the gospel applied to personal, social, and ecclesiastical problems in such a pungent fashion that they possess permanent value. In the earliest group of Paul's Epistles, he reminds the Thessalonians of the official character of the Epistle which was meant for the church as a whole (1 Thessalonians 5:27). He says also: "But if any one does not obey our word by the epistle, mark this one, not to associate with him, that he may be put to shame" (2 Thessalonians 3:14). He calls attention to his signature as proof of the genuineness of every epistle (2 Thessalonians 3:17). He gave directions for the public reading of his epistles (Colossians 4:16). He regarded them as the expression of God's will through the life of the churches and he put his whole heart into them. Two great controversies stirred Paul's life. That with the Judaizers called forth the great doctrinal group (I Corinthians, II Corinthians, Galatians, Romans). That with the Gnostics occasioned the Epistles to the Colossians and the Ephesians (Laodiceans) and this controversy ran on into the Pastoral Epistles. Each Epistle had its particular occasion which will be pointed out in due season. But even in the short ones like Philippians, Colossians and Ephesians Paul deals with the sublimest of all themes, the Person of Christ, with a masterfulness never equalled elsewhere. Even in I Corinthians, which deals so largely with church problems in Corinth, two great chapters rise to the heights of real eloquence (Chapter Romans 0:1 on Love and Chapter Romans 0:1 on the Resurrection). Romans, the greatest of his Epistles, has the fullest discussion of Paul's gospel of grace and Chapter Romans 0:1 has a sweep of imagination and a grasp of faith unsurpassed. Hence, while denying to Paul the artificial rules of the rhetoricians attributed to him by Blass, I cannot agree that Paul's church Epistles are mere incidental letters. It is not a question whether Paul was writing for posterity or for the present emergency. He wrote for the present emergency in the most effective possible way. He brought the whole gospel message to bear upon the varied and pressing problems of the early Christians in the power of the Holy Spirit with the eloquence of a mind all ablaze with the truth and with a heart that yearned for their souls for Christ. They are not literary epistles, but they are more than personal letters. They are thunderbolts of passion and power that struck centre and that strike fire now for all who will take the trouble to come to them for the mind of Christ that is here.


Unfortunately there is not complete agreement among scholars as to the dates of some of Paul's Epistles. Baur denied the Pauline authorship of all the Epistles save I and II Corinthians, Galatians, Romans. Today some deny that Paul wrote the Pastoral Epistles, though admitting the others. Some admit Pauline fragments even in the Pastoral Epistles, but more about this when these Epistles are reached. There is more doubt about the date of Galatians than any of the others. Lightfoot put it just before Romans, while Ramsay now makes it the earliest of all. The Epistle itself has no notes of place or time. The Epistles to the Thessalonians were written from Corinth after Timothy had been sent from Athens by Paul to Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 3:1) and had just returned to Paul (1 Thessalonians 3:6) which we know was in Corinth (Acts 18:5) shortly before Gallio came as Proconsul of Achaia (Acts 18:12). We can now feel certain from the new "acclamation" of Claudius in the inscription at Delphi recently explained by Deissmann in his St. Paul that the Thessalonian Epistles were written 50 to 51 A.D. We know also that he wrote I Corinthians while in Ephesus (1 Corinthians 16:8) and before pentecost, though the precise year is not given. But he spent three years at Ephesus in round numbers (Acts 19:8; Acts 19:10; Acts 20:31) and he wrote just before he left, probably spring of A.D. 54 or 55. He wrote II Corinthians from Macedonia shortly after leaving Ephesus (2 Corinthians 2:12) ] apparently the same year. Romans was written from Corinth and sent by Phoebe of Cenchreae (Romans 16:1) unless Romans 0:16 be considered a separate Epistle to Ephesus as some hold, a view that does not commend itself to me. Deissmann (New Testament in the Light of Modern Research, p. 33) accepts a modern theory that Ephesus was the place of the writing of the first prison Epistles (Philippians, Philemon, Colossians, Ephesians) as well as I Corinthians and Galatians and dates them all between A.D. 52 and 55. But we shall find that these prison Epistles most naturally fall to Rome between A.D. 61 and 63. If the Pastoral Epistles are genuine, as I hold, they come between A.D. 65 and 68. Bartlet argues for a date before A.D. 64, accepting the view that Paul was put to death then. But it is still far more probable that Paul met his death in Rome in A.D. 68 shortly before Nero's death which was June 8, A.D. 68. It will thus be seen that the dates of several of the Epistles are fairly clear, while some remain quite uncertain. In a broad outlook they must all come between A.D. 50 and 68.


I. First Thessalonians. | Second Thessalonians. | A.D. 50 to 51.

Chief topic Eschatology. To correct misconceptions in Thessalonica.

II. First Corinthians. | Second Corinthians | Galatians | A.D. 54 to 57. Romans. |

Chief topic Justification by Faith. Defence against

the Judaizers.

III. Philippians. | Philemon. | Colossians. | A.D. 61 to 63. Ephesians (Laodiceans).

Chief topic Christology. Defence against the Gnostic

perversions of the Person of Christ.

IV. First Timothy. | Titus. | A.D. 65 to 68. Second Timothy. |

Ecclesiastical Problems to the fore.


The study of Paul's Epistles in the order of their writing is the best possible way of seeing his own growth as a theologian and interpreter of Christ. Sabatier long ago laid emphasis on this point in his book The Apostle Paul as did Matheson in The Spiritual Development of Paul. It is a tragedy to have to read Paul's Epistles as printed in the usual Greek text of Westcott and Hort and the English translations, beginning with Romans and ending with Philemon. In the manuscripts that give Paul's Epistles Romans comes first as the largest and most important, but Titus and Philemon come after II Timothy (the last just before his death). We know something of Paul's early preaching how he laid emphasis on the Messiahship of Jesus proven by his resurrection, Paul himself having seen the Risen Christ (Acts 9:22). This conviction and experience lay at the foundation of all his work and he never faltered concerning it (Acts 17:3). In the earliest sermon of which we have a full report Paul proclaims justification by faith in Christ with forgiveness of sins (Acts 13:38), blessings not obtained by the law of Moses. In the unfolding life of Paul he grappled with great problems of Jewish rabbinism and Greek philosophy and mystery-religions and Paul himself grew in stature as he courageously and victoriously faced Judaizer and Gnostic. There are scholars who claim that Paul surrendered to the appeal of Gnostic sacramentarianism and so went back on his great doctrine of justification by faith, not by works. It will be shown at the proper time that this view misinterprets Paul's attitude. The events given by Luke in the Acts fit in with the self-revelation of Paul in his own Epistles as we read them. Each one of the four groups of Epistles has a slightly different style and vocabulary as is natural when one comes to think of it. The same thing is true of the plays of Shakespeare and the poems of Milton. Style is the man, Buffon says. Yes, but style is also a function of the subject. Particularly is this true of vocabulary which has to vary with the different topics treated. But style in the same man varies with different ages. Ripened old age mellows the exuberance of youth and the passionate vehemence of manhood. We shall see Paul himself in his Epistles, letting himself go in various ways and in different moods. But in all the changing phases of his life and work there is the same masterful man who glories in being the slave of Jesus Christ and the Apostle to the Gentiles. The passion of Paul is Christ and one can feel the throb of the heart of the chief of sinners who became the chief of saints in all his Epistles. There is the Pauline glow and glory in them all.


Bate, As a Whole Guide to the Epistles of St. Paul (1927). Bonnet-Schroeder, Epitres de Paul (4 ed. 1912). Champlain, The Epistles of Paul (1906). Clemen, Einheitlichkeit d . paul. Briefe (1894). Conybeare and Howson, Life and Epistles of St. Paul. Drummond, The Epistles of Paul the Apostle (1899). Hayes, Paul and His Epistles (1915). Heinrici, Die Forschungen uber die paul. Briefe (1886). Lake, The Earlier Epistles of St. Paul (1915). Lewin, Life and Epistles of St. Paul. (1875). Neil, The Pauline Epistles (1906). Scott, The Pauline Epistles (1909). Shaw, The Pauline Epistles (1903). Vischer, Die Paulusbriefe (1910). Voelter, Die Composition der paul. Haupt Briefe (1890). Voelter, Paulus und seine Briefe (1905). Way, The Letters of Paul to Seven Churches and Three Friends (1906) Weinel, Die Echtheit der paul. Hauptbriefe (1920). Weiss, B., Present Status of the Inquiry Concerning the Genuineness of the Pauline Epistles (1901). Weiss, B., Die Paulinische Briefe (1902). Wood, Life, Letters, and Religion of St. Paul (1925).





The genuineness of the Epistle is so generally admitted by scholars that it is unnecessary to prove it here, for Loman, Steck, and the Dutch scholars (Van Manen, etc.) who deny it as Pauline are no longer taken seriously. He wrote it from Corinth because he sent it to Rome by Phoebe of Cenchreae (Romans 16:2) if chapter 16 is acknowledged to be a part of the Epistle. Chapter 16 is held by some to be really a short epistle to Ephesus because of the long list of names in it, because of Paul's long stay in Ephesus, because he had not yet been to Rome, and because, in particular, Aquila and Priscilla are named (Romans 16:3-5) who had been with Paul in Ephesus. But they had come from Rome before going to Corinth and there is no reason for thinking that they did not return to Rome. It was quite possible for Paul to have many friends in Rome whom he had met elsewhere. People naturally drifted to Rome from all over the empire. The old MSS. (Aleph A B C D) give chapter 16 as an integral part of the Epistle. Marcion rejected it and chapter 15 also for reasons of his own. Renan's theory that Romans was a circular letter like Ephesians sent in different forms to different churches (Rome, Ephesus, Thessalonica, etc.) has appealed to some scholars as explaining the several doxologies in the Epistle, but they cause no real difficulty since Paul interjected them in his other epistles according to his moods (2 Corinthians 1:20, for instance). That theory raises more problems than it solves as, for example, Paul's remarks about going to Rome (Romans 1:9-16) which apply to Rome. Lightfoot suggests the possibility that Paul added Romans 16:25-27 some years after the original date so as to turn it into a circular letter. But the MSS. do not support that theory and that leaves Romans 15:22-33 in the Epistle quite unsuitable to a circular letter. Modern knowledge leaves the Epistle intact with occasional variations in the MSS. on particular points as is true of all the N.T.


The place is settled if we accept Romans 16:1. The time of the year is in the spring if we combine statements in the Acts and the Epistle. He says: "I am now going to Jerusalem ministering to the saints" (Romans 15:25). In Acts 20:3 we read that Paul spent three months in Corinth. In II Corinthians we have a full account of the collection for the poor saints in Jerusalem. The account of the journey from Corinth to Jerusalem is given in Acts 20:3-21. It was in the spring between passover at Philippi (Acts 20:6) and pentecost in Jerusalem (Romans 20:16; Romans 21:17). The precise year is not quite so certain, but we may suggest A.D. 57 or 58 with reasonable confidence.


Paul tells this himself. He had long cherished a desire to come to Rome (Acts 19:21) and had often made his plans to do so (Romans 1:13) which were interrupted (Romans 15:22), but now he definitely plans to go from Jerusalem, after taking the contribution there (Romans 15:26), to Rome and then on to Spain (Romans 15:24; Romans 15:28). Meanwhile he sends this Epistle that the Romans may know what Paul's gospel really is (Romans 1:15; Romans 2:16). He is full of the issues raised by the Judaizing controversy as set forth in the Epistles to Corinth and to Galatia. So in a calmer mood and more at length he presents his conception of the Righteousness demanded by God (Romans 1:17) of both Gentile (Romans 1:18-32) and Jew (Romans 2:1-3) and only to be obtained by faith in Christ who by his atoning death (justification) has made it possible (Romans 3:21-5). This new life of faith in Christ should lead to holiness of life (sanctification, chapters Romans 0:6-8). This is Paul's gospel and the remaining chapters deal with corollaries growing out of the doctrine of grace as applied to practical matters. It is a cause for gratitude that Paul did write out so full a statement of his message. He had a message for the whole world and was anxious to win the Roman Empire to Christ. It was important that he go to Rome for it was the centre of the world's life. Nowhere does Paul's Christian statesmanship show to better advantage than in this greatest of his Epistles. It is not a book of formal theology though Paul is the greatest of theologians. Here Paul is seen in the plenitude of his powers with all the wealth of his knowledge of Christ and his rich experience in mission work. The church in Rome is plainly composed of both Jews and Greeks, though who started the work there we have no way of knowing. Paul's ambition was to preach where no one else had been (Romans 15:20), but he has no hesitation in going on to Rome.


No one of Paul's Epistles has more helpful modern commentaries on it than this one, such as those by Barth (1919), Beet (9th ed., 1901), Cook (1930), Denney (1901), Feine (1903), Garvie (1901), Gifford (1881), Godet (Tr., 1883), Gore (Expos.), Grey (1910), Griffith-Thomas (1913), Hodge (1856), Hort (Intr., 1895), Jowett (3rd ed., 1894), Julicher (2 Aufl., 1907), Kuhl (1913), Lagrange (1916), Lard (1875), Liddon (Anal., 1893), Lietzmann (2 Aufl., 1919), Lightfoot (chapters 1-7, 1895), Luetgert (1913), Monk (1893), Plummer, Richter (1908), Sanday and Headlam (1895), Shedd (1893), Stifler (1897), Vaughan (1890), Weiss, B. (Meyer Komm., g Aufl., 1899), Westcott, F. B. (1913), Zahn (1910).

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