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.