Intro to Romans
From “Introduction to Romans”, Cornerstone Biblical Commentary – Cornerstone Biblical Commentary – Volume 14: Romans and Galatians.
Paul’s Letter to the Romans is one of the most significant writings ever to come from the hand of a Christian. Theologically, it is certainly the most important of all of Paul’s letters, and many would say it is the single most important document in the entire New Testament—indeed, “arguably the single most important work of Christian theology ever written” (Dunn 1993:838). It is the most fully developed theological statement we have from the earliest Christians. Of all the New Testament writings, it is Romans that gives us the most comprehensive exposition and analysis of the Christian gospel, the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ.
Because of this, Romans has been extremely influential in the history of the Christian church and, indeed, in the history of the western world. It was instrumental in the formulation of the early Christian creeds, and it shaped the lives and thinking of such key figures as Augustine (reflected in his understanding of human sinfulness and of grace), Luther (justification by faith), Calvin (God’s sovereignty and predestination), Wesley (the transforming work of the Holy Spirit), and Barth (God’s sovereign revelation of grace). It played a key role in the rise of the Protestant Reformation and, more than any other single work, has shaped the theology of the modern-day evangelical movement (reflected, for example, in the preaching of Billy Graham and in Campus Crusade for Christ’s “Four Spiritual Laws”). Luther thought the book to be so important that “every Christian should know it word for word, by heart, [and] occupy himself with it every day, as the daily bread of the soul. It can never be read or pondered too much,” he wrote, “and the more it is dealt with the more precious it becomes, and the better it tastes” (Luther 1954:xi).
Without question, of all the letters of Paul, Romans is the weightiest and most significant theologically and comes closest to being a carefully constructed theological exposition. Here, in well-organized form, Paul gives us all the central elements of his understanding of the Christian faith: God’s saving work in Christ, the doctrine of justification by faith, the claims of Christ as Lord, the life-transforming work of the Holy Spirit, the confident expectation of sharing in God’s glory, and much more. Here we have the quintessence of Paul’s theological thought. A good grasp of Romans is crucial, then, if we are to understand Paul.
But understanding Romans is no easy task; it is difficult to know how to put all the pieces together. (The title of John A. T. Robinson’s book, Wrestling with Romans, is apropos.) Of all Paul’s writings, this one, more than any other, has challenged—and continues to challenge—the intellectual powers of interpreters. The seeming inconsistencies and enigmatic logic give rise to many questions and make Romans the most perplexing of Paul’s letters. There may well be more written about Romans than about any other book of the New Testament. (For an extensive list of commentaries up to 1973, see Cranfield 1980:xiii-xviii.) But the book of Romans is well worth the struggle.
Here, then, is the greatest of all Paul’s letters, a letter that many Christians believe is the single most important writing in the entire New Testament—indeed, perhaps the most significant Christian document in the whole of human history. Here God in his mercy has given us a window into the single most important thing in life, our salvation, with all of its life-changing ramifications. A good grasp of Romans is essential not only for our understanding of Paul but for our understanding of the early Christians’ perception of Jesus and his significance, and of the message that lies at the very heart of the New Testament.
The origin of the Roman church is unknown. The ancient belief that it was founded by Peter and Paul (Irenaeus Against Heresies 3:1.2) is certainly wrong, for there is no historical evidence either in the New Testament or in external sources. Moreover, if it had been founded by an apostle, Paul would not have laid claim to it on the grounds that he was “apostle to the Gentiles” (1:6, 14; so Sanday and Headlam 1902:xxvi). It originated fairly early, for the emperor Claudius expelled the Jews and Christians in a.d. 49 because of riots between the Jews and Christians (see Suetonius Life of Claudius 25.2), indicating that it was a well-established movement by then. Most believe it was founded by Jewish Christians (perhaps returning from the Pentecost of Acts 2, but also traveling merchants and others), who may have witnessed in the synagogues that the Messiah had come (so Murray 1968; Dunn 1988a; Schreiner 1998). Rome had a sizable population of Jews, estimated at forty to fifty thousand (Dunn 1988a:xlvi), almost the size of Jerusalem itself! In this sense the coming of Christ was a “fulfillment of time” because of the tremendous mobility of people in the Roman Empire. There had never been so many traveling from one city to another. The strategy of preaching in the synagogues was also practiced by Paul on his missionary journeys, and the pattern of preaching the gospel followed by conflict and riots also occurred frequently (Acts 13:50; 14:4-7, 19; 17:5-8, 13; 18:6; 19:9, 23-24).
The history of this church was probably strongly influenced by Claudius’s expulsion of Jews from Rome. Before that time Jewish Christians dominated, but after their expulsion the Gentiles had to develop their own leadership. Many had been originally converted from the synagogues themselves, from the many “God-fearers” that worshiped as Jews but had been unwilling to undergo circumcision (see Acts 10:2, 22; 13:16, 26). It is often thought that they were the major source of converts from the synagogues. They in turn would have evangelized their own countrymen. During the ensuing years the Gentile church grew, and when many of the Jewish Christians returned after the death of Claudius (a.d. 54), the Gentiles were in the majority and were leaders in the Roman church, causing further tension with the returning Jews and their different lifestyle. So when Paul wrote this letter the Gentiles may have been in the majority (so Murray 1968; Cranfield 1975; Dunn 1988a; Moo 1996; Schreiner 1998). They are directly addressed in 11:13-32 and 15:7-12, and Paul tended to side with them in the dispute even while arguing that they should live in unity and respect one another’s opinions.
From The IVP New Testament Commentary Series – The IVP New Testament Commentary Series – Romans.
Have you ever thought about writing the perfect letter, a letter so profound that the reader could only sigh with awe at its incredible truths? Paul has written just that letter, one that is so deep that Calvin said, “I fear, lest through my recommendations falling far short of what they ought to be, I should do nothing but obscure its merits,” and then added, “when any one gains a knowledge of this Epistle, he has an entrance opened to him to all the most hidden treasures of Scripture” (Calvin 1979:xxix). It is generally agreed that this is the most important book in the New Testament from the standpoint of the meaning of salvation and the Christian life. It was Martin Luther’s study of Romans that led to his discovery of justification by faith alone and thus to the Reformation. In every generation a Romans commentary has stood out as a landmark work, from Calvin in 1540 to Sanday and Headlam in 1895 to Karl Barth in 1919 to C. E. B. Cranfield in 1975 to Douglas Moo in 1996. Each has had a profound effect on theological reflection and on the understanding of Scripture in general. It is difficult to overstate the importance of this epistle for the church. The issues discussed in it are at the core of what it means to be a Christian.
From Bible Exposition Commentary (BE Series) – New Testament – The Bible Exposition Commentary – New Testament, Volume 1.
On May 24, 1738, a discouraged missionary went “very unwillingly” to a religious meeting in London. There a miracle took place. “About a quarter before nine,” he wrote in his journal, “I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”
That missionary was John Wesley. The message he heard that evening was the preface to Martin Luther’s commentary on Romans. Just a few months before, John Wesley had written in his journal: “I went to America to convert the Indians; but Oh! who shall convert me?” That evening in Aldersgate Street, his question was answered. And the result was the great Wesleyan Revival that swept England and transformed the nation. [SAVED THE NATION FROM THE FRENCH REVOLUTION – Secularism gave birth to Napolean. The Grace of God gave birth to our American Freedoms.]
Mostly for independent study or a study group.
General “Loosen Up” Questions
- What are some of the normal ways people begin a letter or a phone call? (Notice in 1st C, the writer’s name is up-front, not at the end of the letter, as per today.)
- When have you been startled by the opening of a letter?
- How would you introduce yourself, by mail, to a group of Christians you’ve never met before?
- How did Paul introduce and identify himself to the Romans? (1:1) – How does this differ from 1 Corinthians or Galatians, and why would that be?
- What was the special calling Paul worked under? (1:1)
- In what ways has God revealed His gospel to people? (1:2-4) NOTE: The end of Chapter 1 talks about “General Revelation”, which is different than the “Special Revelation” discussed here.
- Who is the focus of God’s gospel? (1:2-4)
- What credentials does Jesus have to confirm His claim as Son of God? (1:3-4)
- Who were the new group of people being exposed to the gospel message? (1:5)
- What were the Gentiles and all people being called to believe? (1:5)
- What’s the difference between “obedience” and “obedience of faith”? (1:5)
- What is this “universal calling” for all believers? (1:6)
- What difference does it make to be a “saint”? (1:7)
- What does it look like, in a practical sense, to receive the “Grace and Peace” of God, and Paul offers them? (1:7)
- In what way do you feel God has placed a special calling on your life?
- What purpose for living has God given you?
- What words do you use to describe yourself to others as a follower of Jesus Christ?
- How did you feel when you realized God’s gospel was meaningful to you?
- What do most people today believe about God’s plan for the world?
- What do most people today believe about God’s plan for their personal salvation?
- How have your beliefs about Jesus Christ changed during the various stages of your life?
- In what ways would remembering in prayer each day God’s calling on and plan for your life affect your daily walk with Christ?
- With whom could you share God’s unfolding plan of salvation for the whole world?
- How would you explain God’s plan of salvation to a friend?
- To what friend could you explain God’s love and your response to His plan of salvation? How?
You can also download: Romans 1 Cell Teaching
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