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.