Introduction to Romans
Paul’s epistle to the Romans, though not the first written, has always been placed first among the epistles in the New Testament canon. It is the longest of his epistles and probably his most important, at least in terms of formal doctrinal and theological content.
Essentially no one questions its Pauline authorship. Paul claims to be its writer (Romans 1:1) and there are so many personal identifying correlations throughout the epistle, both with the account of his travels in Acts and with the other Pauline letters, that it could hardly have been forged by anyone else. He evidently wrote it during the three months he stayed in Corinth while on his third missionary journey (Acts 20:3). He was planning to send the letter by Phoebe, who was a member and faithful worker in the Corinthian church (Romans 16:1), living in the Corinthian suburb called Cenchrea.
The time of writing was just before his last trip to Jerusalem, where he was planning to bring his gift from the Gentile churches to the impoverished Jewish believers there (Romans 15:25-27). He planned to go to Rome after that, and eventually to Spain, and this letter was intended to prepare the Roman Christians for his coming.
Unlike most of the other churches to whom he wrote epistles, Paul was not the founder of the Roman church. This, perhaps, was one of the reasons he felt it necessary to write such a full doctrinal treatise in his letter to the believers there. No mention is made of the Apostle Peter, for he had not yet come to Rome at this time, and was probably still living in Babylon (I Peter 5:13). Paul mentioned many of the Roman Christians by name (Romans 16:1-23), some of whom he had already met before they moved to Rome (e.g., Priscilla and Aquila), and it is inconceivable that he would not have mentioned Peter, if Peter had actually founded the church (or churches) at Rome, as some have claimed.
Actually, no one knows who first carried the Gospel to Rome; possibly it was some of the Jews who had come from Rome to Jerusalem for the observance of Pentecost and who were converted before returning to Rome (Acts 2:10). Since Peter was the preacher at Pentecost when they were baptized (Acts 2:14-40), this may have been the real source of the otherwise unsound tradition that Peter started the church at Rome.
There were certainly both Jews and Gentiles in the churches (perhaps about four) at Rome to whom Paul’s epistle was addressed. The book of Romans contains about sixty quotations from the Old Testament Scriptures, as well as extensive doctrinal sections concerning the place of the Jews in God’s plan (especially Romans 9–11), yet it obviously also is addressed to Gentiles (e.g., Romans 11:13). The date of writing was between A.D. 56 and 60.
1:1 Paul. Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, uses his Gentile name, Paul (from a Latin word meaning “little”) instead of his Hebrew name, Saul, as the very first word in every one of his epistles with the possible exception of Hebrews, the authorship of which is in question. This epistle to the Romans was not the first one written (that was probably either Galatians or I Thessalonians), but it is the longest and has always been placed first in the canon of Paul’s inspired writings. Romans embodies the most complete exposition of Christian doctrine in the Bible. Most of Paul’s other epistles were written either to churches in which Paul had a direct interest as founder or to individuals whom he knew personally. His church epistles were usually written to deal with specific needs in the particular churches, but this was not true of Romans. Furthermore, Rome was the greatest city in the world, so the Roman Gentile Christians had unique opportunities of witness and ministry. Accordingly, Paul used his letter to Rome, probably written while in Corinth on his third missionary journey (Acts 20:3; Romans 16:23), to compose a logical and extensive exposition and defense of Christianity.
1:2 he had promised afore. Paul began his treatise by stressing that the gospel was not some new religion, but was the prophetic fulfillment of the promises given in God’s Holy Scriptures from the beginning.
1:3 according to the flesh. The central truth of Christianity is the incarnation of God in human flesh, in the person of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. He was a true man, “made of the seed of David,” as foretold by the prophets; His birth was completely natural from the point of conception, but His conception was altogether miraculous. He had no human father (although Joseph was his legal, adoptive father, conveying the legal right to David’s throne) and His mother remained a virgin until after He was born. Since Mary herself was a descendant of David, and since He grew in her womb for nine months, He was indeed “made” of one who was of the seed of David. Nevertheless, He could have had no genetic conception to either Mary or Joseph. Otherwise, there could have been no natural way in which “that holy thing” (Luke 1:35) could have been kept from inherited sin or inherited mutational defects. Thus, His conception necessarily involved the special creation of the cell placed by the Holy Spirit in Mary’s womb. “A body hast thou prepared me” (Hebrews 10:5). Just as the body of the first Adam was specially created by God, without genetic connection to human parents, so was that of “the last Adam” (I Corinthians 15:45). Yet He was no less fully human than the first Adam, the father of all other humans. Furthermore, His growing body was “made” through natural nourishment in Mary’s womb as He grew, and Mary was “of the seed of David,” Thus He was, indeed, “made of the seed of David according to the flesh,” although the specifications for the “making” of His body were contained in the DNA code programmed by God in the created cell.
1:4 resurrection from the dead. While Jesus was fully man—in fact, perfect man, man as God had intended man to be—He was also fully God. This fact was perfectly demonstrated by His bodily resurrection. The power to defeat death and rise again is beyond all human ability. Only the Creator of life, the God who imposed death as the penalty for sin, could defeat death. Christ’s bodily resurrection, supported historically as it is by “many infallible proofs” (Acts 1:3) is the crowning proof that He is, indeed, the eternal and unique Son of God.
1:8 for you all. Paul frequently indicated to the churches that he loved and was praying for “you all” (Romans 15:33; I Corinthians 16:24; II Corinthians 13:14; Philippians 1:4,25; I Thessalonians 1:2; II Thessalonians 3:18; Hebrews 13:25; etc.). The phrase was not a southern idiom, but indicated rather that Paul had a long prayer list! Never was there a busier man than Paul, yet he spent much time in prayer. He also preached what he practiced (I Thessalonians 5:17-18; Romans 12:12; Colossians 4:2; Ephesians 5:20.
1:13 let. This is an old English word meaning “delayed.” See note on II Thessalonians 2:7.
1:14 Barbarians. Those who used the Greek languages called anyone who could not use the Greek or Latin (which were considered the languages of cultured people) Barbarians. The term had nothing to do with their intelligence or state of civilization. Both Greeks and Barbarians were Gentiles, of course, following some form of pagan evolutionary atheism or pantheism as their religion, and thus Paul felt he was debtor to both of them. That is, he owed them the gospel of salvation, and he ought to be preaching it to them. The words debtor, owed and ought are all similar in the Greek.
1:16 power of God. There are six Greek words translated “power.” This one is dunamis, meaning “effective ability to accomplish an intended purpose.” The gospel proclaims and produces salvation in everyone who believes it.
1:16 to the Jew first. Paul’s custom, as he entered a new city, was always to go first to the local Jewish synagogue to preach the gospel. However, the Jews for the most part, in every city from Jerusalem to Rome, rejected it. This had been especially true at Corinth (Acts 18:6,12), the city from which he wrote these words to the Romans. Finally, when this happened also at Rome, his final words to the Jews there were “that the salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles, and that they will hear it” (Acts 28:28). Several years later he wrote to the church at Colossae, that in Christ “there is neither Greek nor Jew” (Colossians 3:11; see also Galatians 3:28). In fact, in none of Paul’s later epistles, written after his rejection by the Jews at Rome, is there any relevant reference to the Jews at all. After this point, Paul apparently treated all alike, both Jews and Gentiles.
1:17 it is written. The quotation is from Habakkuk 2:4, also quoted in Galatians 3:11 and Hebrews 10:38. In the ministry of Martin Luther, this verse eventually became the great watchword of the Reformation.
1:20 from the creation. That is, from the very time of creation, men should have seen the evidence of God’s existence and His work in the marvelous universe He had created, for “God hath shewed it unto them” (Romans 1:19). “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament sheweth His handywork” (Psalm 19:1). Since these things should have been seen and understood by men from the very time of the creation of the world, it is clear that the latter did not take place billions of years before men appeared on earth, as evolutionists and progressive creationists have alleged. Men and women have been in the world ever since its very beginning, and all should have recognized the reality of God, even before God gave His written revelation. Those who apply uniformitarian reasoning and natural processes to deduce a multi-billion year age for the world are merely seeking a means to avoid the overwhelming evidence of the special creation of all things in the beginning, and are “without excuse.”
1:20 things that are made. The phrase “things that are made” is one word, poiema, in the Greek, a word used elsewhere only in Ephesians 2:10: “For we are His workmanship.” God has written two poetic masterpieces, as it were, one in the physical creation, one in the lives of men and women redeemed and saved by His grace (Ephesians 1:7; 2:8). Both give eloquent testimony to the eternal power and Godhead of the Creator/Redeemer.
1:20 eternal power. It is God’s eternal power which is evidenced in the cosmos, the power which created it, not just the power which sustains it once it has been created. The remarkable significance of this fact is illuminated by the modern discovery of the two most basic and universal laws of science, known technically as the first and second laws of thermodynamics. More popularly, they can be understood, respectively, as the law of conservation in the quantity of all things God created, and the law of deterioration in the quality (or organized complexity) of all things God created. The first law reflects the completion of creation in the past (Genesis 2:1-3), so that nothing is now being either created or annihilated; creation is being conserved. The second law reflects the subsequent curse on creation because of sin (Genesis 3:17-19; Romans 8:20-22), so that everything now has a strong tendency to die—that is, to disintegrate back to the “dust” (the basic elements) which God had created in the beginning and from which He had made all the complex systems in the cosmos. Thus, the completed and sustained, yet deteriorating, cosmos testifies powerfully to God’s eternal power. Since nothing is now being created, the universe could not have created itself by the “natural” processes which now function in it. Yet, since it is now disintegrating and dying, it must have been created at some finite time in the past; otherwise, if it were infinitely old, it would already be dead and completely disintegrated. If it must have been created, yet could not have been created by the temporal power contained in its existing processes, it must have been created by the eternal power of a transcendent Creator. The creation, therefore, eloquently testifies to the eternal power of its Creator. The only adequate Cause (by the scientific law of cause-and-effect) to produce an infinite, unending, power-filled, intelligible universe containing living creatures must be an infinite, eternal, omnipotent, omniscient, living, personal God.
1:20 Godhead. The “Godhead” has always been understood by Christian theologians to refer to the divine Trinity—Father, Son and Holy Spirit, one God manifest in three Persons. The word itself does not mean “trinity,” but simply “Godhood”—that is, the nature of God, God as He has revealed Himself. But that is the point; He has revealed Himself as a triune God. He is one God (Deuteronomy 6:4; James 2:19), yet not as the ineffable, unapproachable unitary God of the Muslims but as invisible, omnipresent Father and as visible, approachable Son, and also as indwelling, guiding Spirit. This remarkable structure of God, like His eternal power, is clearly reflected in His physical creation, which could almost be said to be a model of the Godhead. That is, the created universe is actually a tri-universe of space, matter and time, with each permeating and representing the whole.
However, the universe is not partly composed of space, partly of matter, partly of time (like, for example, the three sides of a triangle). A trinity is not a trio or a triad, but a tri-unity, with each part comprising the whole, yet all three required to make the whole. Thus the universe is all space, all time, and all matter (including energy as a form of matter); in fact, scientists speak of it as a space-matter-time continuum. Furthermore, note the parallels between the tri-universe and the divine Trinity in terms of the logical order of the three components. Space (like the Father) is the invisible, omnipresent background of everything. Matter (like the Son) reveals the universe (like the Godhead) in visible, understandable form. Time (like the Spirit) is the entity by which the universe (like the Godhead) becomes applicable and understandable in events and experience. But that is not all. Space is a tri-unity comprised of three dimensions, with each dimension permeating all space. The reality of any portion of space is obtained by multiplying the three dimensions together (the “mathematics of the Trinity” is not 1 + 1 + 1 = 1, but rather 1 x 1 x 1 = 1). Further, space is identified in one dimension, seen in the second dimension, experienced in the third dimension. Similarly, time is future, present and past. The future is the unseen source of time, manifest moment-by-moment in the present, experienced and understood in the past. Finally, matter is unseen, omnipresent energy, manifesting itself in various forms of measurable motion, then experienced in corresponding phenomena. For example, light energy generates light waves which are experienced in the seeing of light. Sound energy generates sound waves which we experience when we hear sound.
Thus the physical universe is a great “Trinity of trinities,” with the inner relationships of each element beautifully modeling the relationships of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. All of this does not prove that God is a Trinity, but it certainly is a remarkable fact. It is an amazing effect that can be explained on the assumption that God is a triune God, and has made His creation to reflect Himself, but it is very hard to explain any other way. Two other references to the “Godhead” occur in Acts 17:29 and Colossians 2:9 (see notes).
1:20 without excuse. The phrase “without excuse” is, literally, without an apologetic” or “without a defense.” I Peter 3:15 instructs Christians to “be ready always to give an answer,” where the word “answer” is practically the same (i.e., Greek apologia). In other words, Christians do have an apologetic and ought to be ready to give it whenever someone attacks or questions their faith. Those who do not see the eternal power and nature of God in the creation, on the other hand, have no apologetic. They are “without excuse” (anapologetos) if they do not believe in our Creator God. The evidence is all around them!
1:21 when they knew God. Romans 1:21-28 describes the awful descent of the ancient world from their ancestral knowledge of the true God, as received from Father Noah, down into evolutionary pantheism and its accompanying polytheism (Romans 1:21-25) and then into the gross immorality and wickedness that inevitably eventually follows such apostasy.
1:22 became fools. Those who deny the God of creation are fools (Psalm 14:1) and “without a defense” (see notes on Romans 1:20). Yet they come to such a foolish decision in the foolish belief that they are scientific in trying to explain the infinitely complex, majestic, beautiful creation without a Creator. The ancient pagans did this, with immeasurably tragic results in the history of the human race. Modern evangelicals, compromising with evolutionism and increasingly flirting with New Age pantheism, feminism and occultism, are in serious danger of starting down that same slippery slope. Compare II Timothy 3:1-13.
1:25 creature more than the Creator. “Creature” is the same word in the Greek as “creation.” The ancient pagans originally knew the true God but in only a few generations after the Flood, under the leadership of Nimrod (Genesis 10:8-11; 11:1-9), they rebelled against Him and proceeded to worship the forces and systems of nature instead of the God who had created all these things, assuming either that the cosmos had always existed or else that it had somehow evolved itself from primordial chaos. These natural phenomena became personified as various gods and goddesses, of whom images began to be erected and for whom temples and shrines began to be built. Many of these also were associated with the host of heaven, both the stars and the spirits that presumably occupy the stars and planets controlling human lives via the “science” of astrology. These “spirits,” of course, are actually the demons or fallen angels under the authority of Satan, who is ultimately the malevolent being behind this entire complex of idolatry, astrology, spiritism and evolutionary pantheism.
1:26 vile affections. The descent into evolutionary paganism is always soon followed by gross immorality, specifically including sexual perversion, such as described in Romans 1:26-29. Ancient Sodom was so notorious for homosexuality that its practice has long been known as sodomy (see Genesis 13:13; 19:4-9). The practice became so widespread in ancient Greece that it was considered normal and even desirable. Other examples are abundant and, of course, it is quickly becoming accepted—even encouraged—here in America. Not surprisingly, this was preceded by widespread return to evolutionism in science and education.
1:28 did not like to retain. The basic reason for all evolutionary religion, from atheism and humanism to ancient Babylonian paganism to modern New Age pantheism is that men and women did not like to believe in the God of creation. Therefore, they diligently sought to find some form of evolutionary explanation for the world with which they could be more comfortable.
1:28 gave them over. Note the sad sequence of events: (1) because of their deliberate repudiation of God, God “gave them up to uncleanness” (Romans 1:24); (2) Because they worshipped and served the creation more than the Creator, God “gave them up unto vile affections” (Romans 1:26); (3) because they did not want even to know anything about God, God “gave them over to a reprobate mind” (Romans 1:28). Long ago, God said: “My Spirit shall not always strive with man” (Genesis 6:3).