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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Romans

- Romans

by Daniel Whedon

ROMANS

INTRODUCTION

SCOPE OF THE EPISTLE.

OUR first impression was that the proper division into volumes would bring the historical books of the New Testament into a separate classification.

But a thorough survey of the ground reveals the fact not only that the book of Acts commences the new apostolic era, but that with it the epistles form a composite unit, separate from the unit of the Christ-history in the Gospels. The books of Acts and Romans are, indeed, very strikingly the complements of each other. The former unfolds the events, the latter the theology and morals, of the apostolic era. With great propriety, therefore, though out of the chronological order of their publication, have these two books stood in contact in the canon; and with equal, though with almost accidental propriety, they have, in our own arrangement, combined into a single volume.

The penetrative inquirer in the reading of Paul’s debates in the synagogues (for instance of Ephesus, of Thessalonica, of Corinth, and especially on that memorable day at Rome, Acts 23:17-29) desires to be present and listen to the sharp encounter. What were the issues, and the methods, and the terms of the discussion? To this query Romans furnishes the comprehensive reply. It every where presents the traces of struggle and battle. Compare it, on this point, with Philippians or Ephesians. And it explains many of the peculiarities of the style, and solves not a few of the difficulties of the argument to say: The Book of Romans is a summary of the hand-to-hand synagogue debates of Paul with the Jews of his day.

This explains the eminently dialogue character of the style; the repeated “I say,” (I affirm, I maintain,) the thou wilt say, the O man! the Behold, thou art a Jew, the brethren, etc. The ever recurring second person, often the second person singular, shows us his co-disputant ever in his presence. By this the train of thought is varied and controlled into often unexpected and abrupt transitions. Objections, sometimes in the opponent’s own words, sometimes put for him in St. Paul’s words, are rapidly presented and rapidly overridden. So rapidly, elliptically, and almost incoherently is this sometimes done, that we are bound to suppose that St. Paul assumes that his contemporary readers are familiar with his argument, and so need not its fuller expansion. Many things were thus clear to them which axe obscure to us.

And this consideration has even its theological bearings. For instance, in the ninth chapter a false exposition is retained very much by the commentator’s insisting upon a false position. By forgetting the stand which St. Paul is maintaining against the altercating synagogue, a defence of God’s rectitude in superseding the Jewish theocracy by the open establishment of a broad and universal system of equalized free-agency, is, most illegitimately, transformed into an assertion of an absolute universal “divine sovereignty,” eternally foreordaining the sin and then damning the sinner! Alford, who insists on this theological transformation most persistently, also rejects in a very one-sided and unexegetical manner the real position in which St. Paul writes. Our apostle orally dictated this epistle to his penman, Tertius, and it is thus vividly startling with the spoken style throughout; a spoken style in which oratory, forensic (or rather synagogic) debate, and terse, abrupt dialogue take their turns; and nowhere are these living variations more graphically presented than in this very ninth chapter. Taking this standpoint with the apostle in the synagogue, and tracing his winding argument, we are then able truly and vividly to realize its living character.

But the Gentiles, in rows and clusters, were often sitting in the same synagogue, sick of worn-out polytheism, and yet hesitating fully to accept monotheism encumbered with the Jewish circumcision and ritual. They usually formed a large part of the assemblage at Corinth. Their moral position, therefore, in the kingdom of God must be unfolded. In the synagogue discussions this would be often more or less perfectly done. Thence, in a concise written summary, would arise just what we have in this book the relations of Jews and Gentiles to God and to each other, both in the past and the future of the Divine government, as unfolded in the complete revelation of Christ. It thus becomes a most compressed yet most comprehensive SYSTEM OF THEOLOGY, in which every point of Christian doctrine takes its place with a most amazing completeness and symmetry; yet a treatise modified by contemporary circumstances, and, like the whole New Testament, wonderfully blending the traits of the temporary with the permanent.

THE ROMAN CHURCH.

When the Roman general Pompey conquered the Jewish nation and captured Jerusalem, a large body of Jewish prisoners were sent to Rome and sold as slaves. Their rigid adherence to the peculiarities of their faith rendering them very impracticable servants, their masters were glad to emancipate them, and, perhaps respecting their conscientiousness, assigned them a quarter beyond the Tiber as a residence. (See “Jews’ Quarter” on map.) As the residence of freedmen, exiled from aristocratic Rome, in a low ground, where the flat boats from the seaport at Ostia had their wharves, and low shops abounded, it was scarce a respectable section. It was a symbol of truth abased in the world. The worship of the true Jehovah dwelt in these humble abodes, overlooked by the haughty temple of the Capitoline Jove. How has history reversed the contrast! Yet even here the stately synagogue rose, the rabbi established his school, and a hierarchy ruled in power. Nor was monotheism without its influence on imperial Rome herself. So prevalent was the tendency of thoughtful persons toward Judaism as to become the subject of satire to more than one of the Roman poets. And so crowded were the synagogues on the Saturday-Sabbath with Roman ladies that one poet recommends the young men to go thither to get sight of the beauty and fashion of Rome!

The “strangers of Rome,” (Acts 2:16,) returning from Pentecost to this humble Jewish quarter, were probably the first germ of Roman Christianity. They were purely Jewish. The only probable fact we have of history is that such excitements arose among the Jews (about A.D. 50) as to attract the notice of the city government, which received intelligence that the disturbances came from one Chrestus, obviously a modification of the name of Christ. (See note on Acts 18:2.) This mythical Chrestus the police were never able to apprehend, but the government ordered the Jews in a body to leave Rome. By this decree it seems that the elements of the first Roman Church (as of the Pentecostal Church) were swept away.

It is from this epistle to the Romans that we get our next glimpse of the Church at Rome. In this respect the catalogue of names in chapter xvi has a singular interest. The banished Aquila and Priscilla have returned. There is a goodly number of Paul’s friends there. And if we may judge of the whole from this catalogue we should say that the Church was almost entirely Gentile, and far more Greek than Roman. Of the twenty-eight names there but two are Jewish, and the Greek are twice as many as the Latin. The Church had existed there many years, (Acts 15:23;) they had attained a reputation through the Christian world, (Acts 1:8.) Though not founded by Paul, the Church recognises his apostleship; nor has he any misgivings that it is an anti-Pauline Church, nor does he recognise the existence of any opponents or maligners.

The next view we have is not so much of the Church as of the escort of friends who met Paul at Appii Forum to conduct him to Rome. (Acts 28:15.) The then existing aspect of things is treated in our notes. The career of the Church of Rome since that period is one of the wonders of history. Its spiritual empire, rising like the shadow of Rome’s past imperial power, has exercised a mightier sway over the civilized world. That Peter was once at Rome and suffered martyrdom there is probably true; but that he was founder or Bishop of its Church is supported by no adequate authority. And the stupendous despotism of Popery based its existence not upon the sacred canon, or upon primitive history, but upon forged documents that powerfully imposed upon the ignorance of the dark ages, but cannot claim to stand the test of modern criticism.

AUTHENTICITY AND INTEGRITY.

That Romans was really dictated to Tertius by Paul is conceded by the most sceptical criticism of the present day. This is a most important concession; for it cannot be denied that the outlines of the evangelic Christ-history are affirmed or assumed in this epistle. That Jesus was a true hereditary prince descended from the royal line of David, that he lived a miraculous life, died by crucifixion as a ransom for sinners, that he rose again with authority to judge and power to save the world, are broad bold assumptions through the whole book. It founds the Gospel theology on the Gospel history. And when we recognise how familiar Paul was with Jerusalem, what advantages he had to know the Christ-history to be true or false, and then realize the most intense sincerity of his character, we may well style this epistle a fifth Gospel.

But the integrity, that is, the entirety of the epistle as Paul’s, has been questioned. Renan admits the whole to be Paul’s, but affirms the last chapter to have been really written by him to the Church at Ephesus. We have given brief replies to the supposed proofs in our notes.

TIME AND PLACE OF WRITING.

From Luke’s history of Paul in the Book of Acts we should not infer that the apostle ever wrote a letter. And yet, by comparing the history with the existing epistles, we are able, from the “undesigned coincidences” between the two, to state (as we have done in our notes on Acts) with great certainty the time and place of nearly every writing.

As to place, the epistle was written at Corinth. This appears from the fact that “Erastus, the chamberlain of the city,” namely, of Corinth, (2 Timothy 4:20,) joins in the salutations, (Acts 16:23;) that Phebe of Cenchrea (the port of Corinth) is bearer of the Epistle, (Acts 16:1;) and that Gaius, of Corinth, (1 Corinthians 1:14,) was his “host;” and so, perhaps, his house the place of the dictating of the Epistle to Tertius, (Acts 16:23.)

As to time, it was when Paul was on the point of starting from Corinth to Jerusalem, bearing the monies collected by him for the poor Christians at Jerusalem, (Acts 15:25.) This conclusively fixes it at Paul’s last departure from Corinth to Jerusalem, before his arrest by the Jews and rescue by the Romans. There we have placed it in our notes on Acts 20:3.

RHYTHM, PARALLELISM, AND NUMBER.

About a century ago Bishop Lowth revealed to the world the poetic parallelism of the Book of Psalms and other poetic parts of the Old Testament. Dr. Jebb disclosed the same fact in a less degree in the discourses of our Lord. But it was reserved for Dr. Forbes, of Edinburgh, to show, in his late Commentary on Romans, how prevalent this same phenomenon is in that book. We can give but a few specimens.

In the Gospels the following instance will show how parallelism and correspondence of clauses appear in our Lord’s discourses:

1 . Give not that which is holy to the dogs,

2. Nor cast ye your pearls before swine,

2. Lest they trample them under their feet,

1. And turn again and rend you.

It is clear that the lines here marked with the same figures, though in reverse order, correspond to each other. From this it is evident that a proper understanding of parallelism affects our understanding of the true meaning. Thus, the meaning is,

1. Give not that which is holy to the dogs,

1. Lest they turn again and rend you,

2. Cast not your pearls before swine,

2. Lest they trample them under their feet.

On a similar, but still more complex plan, are Paul’s words, Romans 11:33:

O the DEPTHS both of the riches,

and of the wisdom and the knowledge of God!

How unsearchable are his judgments,

And his ways past finding out.

3 . For who hath known the mind of the Lord,

2. Or who hath been his counsellor, Or who hath given to him,

1. And it shall be recompensed to him again.

Here is first the Unit DEPTHS in which the divine three, riches, wisdom, and knowledge, inhere; and then, in reverse order, is either a corresponding line or couplet. Unsearchable and past-finding-out correspond to depths, counsellor to wisdom, mind to knowledge, and recompensed to riches. We have thus the trinity in unity. And if any one doubts the trinitarian reference, let him well analyze the verse that immediately follows:

1 . For of Him,

2. And through Him,

3. And to Him,

Are all things; to whom

1. Be glory

2. Forever,

3. Amen.

Compare also,

And the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,

The love of God,

And the communion of the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 13:14 .

And also the thrice-three of the so-called Trisagion,

Holy, holy, holy,

Lord, God, Almighty,

Which was, and is, and is to come. Revelation 4:8 .

We submit that number, rhythm, and parallelism are here combined with a trinitarian import too clearly to be reasonably doubted. On the subject of “Sacred Number.” let our readers carefully consult our supplementary note, Luke 6:16, vol. ii, p. 77.

We have in Romans 2:6-10, a double trinal contrast describing the opposite sides of God’s judgment of men:

1 . To them who by patient continuance in well-doing

2. Seek for glory and honour and immortality,

3. Eternal life.

1 . But unto them that are contentious,

2. And obey not the truth, but obey unrighteousness,

3. Indignation and wrath.

3 . Tribulation and anguish

2. Upon every soul of man that doeth evil,

1. Of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile.

3 . But glory, honour, and peace

2. To every man that worketh good,

1. To the Jew first, and also to the Gentile.

Is the trine number here adopted to symbolize that these opposite destinies to opposite characters come from the same triune God?

Dr. Forbes’ idea of Romans 2:17-20 we may, with slight modification, thus present: The ten qualifications of the Jews are Five before God:

1 . Rest in Law.

2 . Boast in God.

3 . Knowledge of Will.

4 . Approves the excellent.

5 . Instructed from the Law.

Five superiorities over Gentiles:

6 . A guide to the blind.

7 . Light to the dark.

8 . Instruction of the foolish.

9 . With form of knowledge.

10 . Truth in the Law.

Of rhythm and parallelism we have but to read the very first sentence and paragraph of Romans to find a rich abundance. Take the first words:

Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ,

Called to be an apostle,

Separated unto the gospel of God,

Concerning his son Jesus Christ our Lord,

Which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh,

And declared the Son of God with power, etc.

This measurement and parallelism appear with different degrees of clearness; often too palpable to be mistaken, often doubtful, and shading off in degrees. It gives a fine majesty to Paul’s opening paragraph in Romans, and we suppose that in speaking he was often able to roll out the rhythmic clauses with the power and volume of an orator.

Those who argue that “the apostle in those splendid outbursts could not have attended to these artificialities of rhythm and number,” would do well to fully realize, and then account for, the plain objective facts as they lie in the text of the epistle. Such was the mould and training of Paul’s Jewish mind that we doubt not that he produced a style with these peculiarities as spontaneously as we observe the rules of English grammar or modern rhetoric. Both Dr. Johnson and Dr. Parr could talk with the most perfect spontaneity in the same Latin and antithetic style in which they wrote.

PLAN OF THE EPISTLE.

A. THE ARGUMENT.

INTRODUCTION

1 . Superscription Romans 1:1-7

2. The Direct Address (closing with Thesis) Romans 1:8-17

I. THE RUIN.

FALLEN MAN WITHOUT THE SALVATION BY CHRIST Romans 1:18 to Romans 3:20

1. Condition of the Heathen world Romans 1:18 to Romans 2:16

a) The depths to which human depravation can go Romans 1:18-32

b) The upper moral class, who have never descended to the depths Romans 2:1-10

c) The heathen of the upper class, who, without the law, keep natural law Romans 2:11-16

2. Condition of the Jewish race Romans 2:17 to Romans 3:20

a) The Jew, under the law, breaking law Romans 2:17-29

b) Admitting the Jews’ advantage in God’s oracles, etc Romans 3:1-2

c) Yet, without impeaching God’s faith, unbelieving Jews are damned Romans Romans 3:3-4

d) Nor does glory denied to God from man’s overruled sin excuse the Jewish any more than the Gentile sinner Romans 3:5-8

e) And so the Jews are no better than the Gentiles, their own Old Testament being witness Romans 3:9-20

Conclusion Under law all CONDEMNED Romans 3:20

II. THE REMEDY.

JUSTIFICATION BY FAITH THROUGH THE ATONEMENT BY CHRIST Romans 3:21 to Romans 8:39

Gratuitous salvation by faith in Christ’s atoning death Romans comprehensively stated as THE REMEDY Romans 3:21-31

Faith-Justification shown by Abraham’s case to be at the foundation of the Jewish, as well as of the Christian, Church 4

This Faith-Remedy illustrated

1 . In its progressive work in the individual soul Romans 5:1-11

2. In the grand antithesis between Adam and Christ Romans 5:12-21

3. In the steps of the Renovation

Negative

a Emancipation from necessity to sin Romans 6:1-23

b Emancipation from servility to law Romans 7:1-6

c (Although law is not to be blamed) Romans 6:7-23

Positive

d Blessed (individual) process of Justified and Spirit-guided life Romans 8:1-17

e Advancing stages to final (collective) glorification of Church and Earth Romans 8:18-25

4. Gracious aids through the divinely foreseen and accomplished stages to the final renovation Romans 8:26-30

5. Paean of triumph over this scheme of Human Renovation Romans 8:31-39

III. THE DEFENCE.

AGAINST JEWISH CAVIL OF THIS GOD’S SCHEME OF IMPARTIAL FAITH-PROBATION, EVEN THOUGH RESULTING IN UNBELIEVING ISRAEL’S DOWNFALL 9-11

1) The Apostle’s deep grief at Jewish downfall Romans 9:1-6

2) Yet God’s promise was not thereby broken; for the promise was to the faith-seed rather than to the birth-seed Romans 9:7-13

3) Nor His righteousness impeached; for, overriding all Jewish cavil, God’s rightful will to establish faith-probation is absolute Romans 9:14-18

4) Nor can He be replied against; for all this accords with the laws of an equitable system of free-agency Romans 9:19-23

5) And it all accords with Old Testament predictions Romans 9:24-29

6) So that the Faith-condition underlies God’s whole system of Election and Rejection of Jew or Gentile Romans 9:30-33

7) The Jew has failed by preferring the birth-and-work-condition to that of Faith Romans 10:1-11

8) Which (faith-condition) is entirely impartial, embracing all accepting and proclaimed to all Romans 10:12-21

9) Nor is Israel quite cast away; for,

1. There is a faith remnant, Romans 11:1-10;

2. Israel stands equally with the Gentile on solemn faith-conditions, Romans 11:11-24; and,

3. Israel will be finally restored to the Churchdom, Romans 11:25-32 Romans 11:1-32

10) Doxology closing the Argument Romans 11:33-36

B. THE ETHICAL DEDUCTION AND PERSONAL CONCLUSION.

I. ETHICAL DEDUCTION.

In perfect logical deduction from the Doctrine of faith taught in the Epistle there must be, first, the complete fundamental Act of Faith; and thence all Christian duties spring.

1 . The Act of basis Faith Complete consecration to God, and all goodness and duty-doing Romans 12:1-2

2. The Cycle of enumerated Duties springing from faith, namely:

Duties,

1) To the blessed Unity of the Church, (the prime condition.) Romans 12:3-16

2) To those without the Church Romans 12:17-21

3) To the civil government Romans 13:1-7

4) To our surrounding secular contemporaries Romans 13:8-14

5) To weaklings in faith, Romans 14:1-6; who should not judge, in view of the Judgment day, Romans 14:7-13; and who should be withheld from intolerance, Romans 14:14-23; and tolerance should be extended toward all in unity, Romans 15:1-7; in the unity (especially) of Jew and Gentile, Romans 15:8-14 Romans 14:1 to Romans 15:14

II. PERSONAL CONCLUSION.

1 . Paul’s Epistolary boldness based on his Apostolic mission Romans 15:15-21

2. His long-hindered visit to Rome will be on his way to Spain Romans 15:22-33

3. Paul’s commendation (of Phebe) and various salutations Romans 16:1-16

4. Interposed warning against dividers and offenders Romans 16:17-20

5. Salutations from Paul’s companions Romans 16:21-24

6. CLOSING DOXOLOGY Romans 16:25-27

A close study of the above Plan will, we think, be a great aid to our readers, especially in verifying our exposition of some important disputed passages.