1 Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2 which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, 3 the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh 4 and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, 5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name, 6 including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ, 7 To all God's beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed throughout the world. 9 For God, whom I serve with my spirit by announcing the gospel of his Son, is my witness that without ceasing I remember you always in my prayers, 10 asking that by God's will I may somehow at last succeed in coming to you. 11 For I am longing to see you so that I may share with you some spiritual gift to strengthen you -- 12 or rather so that we may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith, both yours and mine.
13 I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as I have among the rest of the Gentiles. 14 I am a debtor both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish 15 -- hence my eagerness to proclaim the gospel to you also who are in Rome.
16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, "The one who is righteous will live by faith."
18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse; 21 for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened.
22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools; 23 and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles.
24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the degrading of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. 26 For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, 27 and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.
28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind and to things that should not be done. 29 They were filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, they are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, rebellious toward parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 They know God's decree, that those who practice such things deserve to die-- yet they not only do them but even applaud others who practice them.
- Introductory things
- Romans is the longest of Paul's letters, written about 55 AD.
- Paul identifies himself as an apostle. This is is important because he did not plant the Roman church personally. Further, the Romans had evidently heard some misrepresentation of Paul (3:8). Thus it was vital to establish his authority at the outset -- and the authority of his gospel.
- There were some Roman Jews living in Jerusalem at Pentecost (Acts 2:10). Perhaps they still had relations living in Rome, with whom they shared the gospel message. Thus there is no solid basis for the Roman Catholic claim that Peter founded the church in Rome; it already existed.
- He hoped to visit them soon (1:10-13; 15:22-23). In the meantime, he writes in order to be sure they are on the same page; to address the sensitive question of Jew-Gentile relations; and to lay out his message.
- The Jew-Gentile controversy was the hottest issue in first century Christianity.
- It occasioned the writing of Romans and Galatians, and is in view in Colossians, 1 Timothy, etc.It led to the Council of Jerusalem -- see Acts 15.
- After the destruction of the Temple and its sacrificial system in 70 AD, it became much less of an issue, eventually yielding priority of place to the Gnostic heresies, which came to dominate the horizon in the second century. (If you are unfamiliar with Gnosticism, see the Catholic Encyclopedia article, or a simple explanation by Andrew Kitchen.)
- Since Rome (population 1 million) was the seat of the entire empire, clarity here would have a positive effect on churches everywhere, just as confusion or division here would have a negative effect on Christianity. For a map of the Roman Empire, see top of this page.
- Given the trouble brewing in the eastern Mediterranean, the Jew-Gentile controversy, and given Paul's hope that the Roman Christians would provide missionary assistance so that he could evangelize Spain (Romans 15), it is understandable that he would strive to prevent the issue from catching hold and troubling the churches of the west, like Rome.
- At the time of Romans, there were at least 20,000 Jews living in Rome. This was an overwhelmingly Gentile city.
- The theme of the entire letter is found in verse 17.
- "The one who is righteous will live by faith," or "He who through faith is righteous will live."
- "From faith to faith" most likely refers to the faith (fidelity, allegiance) of Jesus to our own faith (faithfulness, fidelity, allegiance). There is a perfect literary parallel (in the Greek) in 3:22.
- This connects with the contentious Jew-Gentile controversy -- Does one need to keep the law, or become a Jew, before he can become a Christian? Paul's answer is that faith, not works, is the ground of our justification.
- The opposite of a faithful lifestyle (v.17) is a life of personal autonomy -- living in opposition to God's will (vv.18-32).
- Beginning in v.18, Paul argues that the (Gentile) world has suppressed the truth about God.
- Yet they have no excuse for this, since God's general characteristics are known (through nature) to all people.
- Instead of gratitude, mankind's response has been to rationalize -- to use his mind to justify himself.
- Mankind is in moral declension:
- Idolatry (v.23)
- Sexual sin (v.24)
- Homosexual sin (v.26)
- Twisted thinking (v.28)
- There is a sequence in the downward slide humanity has followed, and experienced:
- Ingratitude (v.21)
- In each case, though it was our own decision to sin, God "gave us over" (vv.24, 26, 28). God will force no one to follow him.
- The big idea of chapters 1-3: the world needs the gospel message.
- The Gentiles (non-Jews) are in desperate need of the gospel.
- The Jews (covenant people of God) are also in desperate need of the gospel.
- All human beings are in desperate need of the gospel.
- The oldest set of Paul's letters is p46, or papyrus 46, which is in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
- This letter, often called "the Queen of the Epistles," has been favored by Protestants at least from the time of Luther.
- It is claimed that Romans lays out the entire gospel message. But this claim is questionable. Paul was not writing to convert outsiders, but to remind insiders of the gospel, and especially its implications for Jew-Gentile relations.
- Many theologians insist that to understand Jesus, we must read Paul. They usually mean that Jesus can be misinterpreted as urging a "works salvation," whereas Paul clearly insists on salvation by faith alone.
- This is a false analysis. Both insist on a living and active faith, an obedient love/faith relationship with the Lord. Let's let Jesus speak for himself.
- 1:3 speaks of God's Son being born / coming into being, as does Gal 4:4, with the same Greek construction. And yet the Greek word is often used for normal human birth, and doesn't necessarily have to imply Christ's pre-existence.
- The gospel was announced beforehand in the OT, in such passages as Genesis 12:3 and Isaiah 49:6. (But there are many more!) Paul ends the epistle with this thought (see 16:26).
- The "obedience of faith" (1:5; see also 16:26) is true Christianity, not "easy believism"!
- In verse 11 Paul says he would like to impart a spiritual gift to them. What does he mean? Does he refer to his preaching or time of fellowship with them? Or is he referring to a miraculous spiritual gift?
- If the latter, that would make sense, since no apostle had established or visited the church of Rome.
- Paul's visit to Rome would lead to his laying hands on some of their members and imparting gifts of prophecy, leadership, etc.
- Rome stands in contast to Corinth. See 1 Corinthians 1:4-7, where the Corinthians are said to possess the full range of spiritual gifts.
- We need to understand Habakkuk 2:4 in order to appreciate Paul's use of it.
- Habukkuk's days were a very challenging time for Israel; her survival as a nation was in the balance.
- The Israelites of the late 7th century BC were tempted to trust in works, political alliances, and the help of man, rather than live by faith.
- Paul sees in this passage a vital principle, and chooses it as the theme of Romans.
- If you are not familiar with the short letter of Habakkuk, this might be a good time to go back and take a look at it.
- Notice the parallel between v.17 and v.18. The righteousness of God is revealed... the wrath of God is revealed.
- The foolishness of idolatry isn't just a Christian theme (Rom 1) or Jewish theme (Isa 44). Even the Romans made fun of it.
- Horace wrote (Satires 1.8): "A long time ago, I was the trunk of a tree /The wood was not fine, so the carpenter contemplated / Whether it would be better to turn me into a stool / Or into a Priapus and he decided on the latter / So now I'm a god / And I scare the wits out of thieves and birds"
- In Greek mythology, Priapus was a minor deity, a god of lust and fertility. He is always represented with a giant phallus. Priapus was a son of Aphrodite and Dionysus. According to one myth, he disliked donkeys, they were often sacrificed to him (condensed from Wikipedia).
- The moral steps in the sequence (vv.18-32) are general, not specific to all individuals and societies. That is, one need not become an idolater on the way from ingratitude to sexual sin -- though this is likely. According to Pseudo-Lucian, Affairs of the Heart 20, c.300 AD, "In the beginning... human life... obeyed the laws made by nature; and men, linking themselves to women... became fathers of children. But gradually the passing years degenerated from such nobility to the lowest depths of hedonism... The same sex entered the same bed. Though they saw themselves embracing each other, they were ashamed neither at what they did nor at what they had done to them. And sowing their seed on barren rocks, to quote the proverb, they bought a little pleasure at the cost of great disgrace."
- This moral declension was embodied on the macro scale in the empire. As Edward Gibbon, 18th century author of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, famously noted, there were five characteristics of Roman society that led to its collapse. (How descriptive of our own society!)
- Mounting love of show and luxury (affluence).
- Widening gap between the very rich and the very poor.
- Obsession with sex.
- Freakishness in the arts, masquerading as originality.
- Increased desire to live off the state
- Though the Jew-Gentile controversy is no longer a major issue, the basic principles still apply. Consider these questions:
- Can we stay unified with other true Christians who think very differently to us about faith?
- Can we tolerate people who sometimes have expectations for membership that go beyond the scriptures (even though in their minds they do not)?
- How serious are we about anticipating and heading off potential problems.
- For a great book on Romans, easy to follow, see Gordon Ferguson's Romans: The Heart Set Free. For something more challenging, see Jim McGuiggan's The Book of Romans.
- What if only the first paragraph of Romans survived the ravages of time, and the rest of the manuscript were lost? Based on this fragment, what would you know about:
- The letter to the Romans?
- The apostle Paul?
- Early Christianity?
- Why do you think Paul begin his case for the good news on such a negative note (vv.18-32)?
- At the time you became a Christian, how far down the slippery slope were you? Which portion of this chapter describes your life at that time?