Romans claims to have been written by the Apostle Paul, and there has been no serious challenge to this claim.
Approx. 57 AD.
Occasion and Purpose (top)
There is great amount of conjecture and debate surrounding the attempt to explain Paul's purpose in writing The Letter to the Romans. Within the text itself there is little in the way of explanation of purpose, and the lack of specific problems addressed within the content similarly leaves the aim of the epistle unclear. After considering the circumstances of Paul, the letter's original recipients and internal and external evidence, there appear to be several dominant theories, some of which are attractive; though none of which are without their problems.
In considering the circumstances of the author and recipients, we know that Paul was likely in Corinth writing in about 57 AD, and about to depart for Jerusalem with a financial offering from the gentiles; and there, expecting to go on mission to Spain visiting Rome on the way. It is hard to say what state the Roman Church was in at the time. It seems that all we know is that it was not founded by Paul, nor any other apostle; and it was likely large and influential, being in the largest and most influential city of the time.
The content of the letter does not offer much insight into Paul's purpose for writing either. While the theme of the epistle is clearly focused on the gospel and the historical relation of the Jews and gentiles to the law and grace, there are no specific problems addressed in the letter. That said, some hold that 14:1-15:13 (the need for the “strong” to be aware of the needs of the “weak”) is likely an indication of a problem within the receiving church. Specifically, however, there are but three aims that Paul mentions as desired outcomes from the letter. First, that through the letter he would prepare the way for a personal visit. Second, that he might secure the support of the Roman believers for his mission to Spain. Third, that the Romans would remember in prayer his ministry and imminent travel to Jerusalem.
External evidence similarly offers little insight, although it is interesting that there have been several copies of the epistle to the Romans found with only the first 14 chapters, and some with only the first 15 chapters; dating to the early centuries after Christ.
In response to this information, several theories have been put forward to explain Paul's purpose in writing this epistle. The first major idea is that, unlike other letters of Paul, Romans was written as a treatise of his belief; methodically stating his teaching on the gospel and the place of Jews and Gentiles in salvation history whilst not addressing any of the more specific pastoral issues of relevancy to the Romans themselves, at that time. Some suggest such a view would be in line with a Paul anxious to see the Roman Church (which had been founded by non-apostles) with an Apostolic foundation. Others have suggested that Paul, on his way to Jerusalem, took the opportunity to stop in Greece and prepare to preach in Jerusalem. He then forwarded his thoughts on to the Christians in Rome in written form. However, that the letter to the Romans was a treatise on Christianity in general, as these ideas suggest, is unlikely as Paul does not cover basic issues such as Ecclesiology, Christology, the resurrection of Christ nor Eschatology. There must be a reason for the somewhat narrow theme.
A more likely variation of this idea, is that Paul wished to establish his own orthodoxy and authority, and so wrote on the essential teaching of Christianity. This may have been in order to introduce himself to the Romans, so that he may in the future seek support from them, or even set up a missionary base in Rome for his dealings to the west. As a letter of introduction, this theory makes sense, as Paul mentions some in Rome slandering his teaching (3:8). Morris supports this view:
"[Paul] clearly regarded it as important that the Roman Church support him on his Spanish mission (15:24). If they were to support him, it was not unreasonable that they should know what he preached. Accordingly, he sets forth a clear but profound statement of the essential message of Christianity as he proclaimed it. This will show the Romans where he stands."
Beginning with F.C. Bauer, many have rejected the idea that Romans is a treatise and opt instead to focus on Romans as an epistle, sent (much like Paul's other epistles) to a specific church for a specific reason. It is here that the “weak” and “strong” of chapters 14 and 15 are highlighted as examples of the likely pastoral focus of the letter. It is imagined quite easily that the gentile Christians were the "strong" Paul referred to, lording it over their "weaker" Jewish-Christian brothers and sisters, still feeling partial to the law on matters of clean and unclean foods. To this view, it must be admitted that chapters 1 to 13 would be a fairly in-depth “foundation” to an argument that extends for but one and a half chapters.
Another general view held is that the letter may have originally been a circular epistle, intended for many churches and consequently existing with different conclusions and introductions in different MSS. This theory is indeed attractive to explain the lack of specific reference to problems and issues in the church, outside of the opening and closing chapters. This would also be evidenced by the existence of some MSS with only 14 or 15 chapters. However, there is no evidence that any other church received the letter to the Romans addressed, instead, to them, which casts great doubt on this possibility. In addition to this, this theory again offers no convincing reason for the epistle to have been sent.
It remains that these theories are all conjecture, and will likely remain as such. That it was written from Corinth and to Rome is very likely. That the epistle is a magnificent treatise on the gospel and its relation to the Christian life under the law and alongside other believers is obvious. That its message is applicable and important to every believer is undeniable. The original purpose for the epistle, however, is still unclear. Given the stated aims of the letter (to prepare the way for a visit to Rome, and to secure the support and prayer of the Romans for other ministries) as well as Paul's mention of those opposing his teaching in Rome, it does suggest to me that the letter is in some way introductory, and an attempt to demonstrate his apostolic authority to a church he is about to visit, and likely seek support from.
Outline of Content (top)
- 1:1-15 Introduction
- 1:1-7 Paul, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God, to all in Rome.
- 1:8-15 I thank my God through Jesus for all of you; I pray for you and long to visit you.
- 1:16-11:36 The Gospel
- 1:16-17 I am not ashamed of the gospel!
- 1:18-32 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness.
- 2:1-16 Now we know that God's judgement against those that do such things is based on truth. God will give to each person according what he has done.
- 2:17-29 Now if you call yourself a Jew and you rely on the law and circumcision, if you break the law, you become as if you had not been circumcised. A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly - no, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly.
- 3:1-20 There is no one righteous, therefore no one will be declared righteous in God's sight by obeying the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.
- 3:21-31 But now a righteousness apart from the law has been made known which comes through faith in Christ Jesus to all who believe.
- 4:1-25 The promise comes by faith so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all who believe.
- 5:1-11 Therefore we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
- 5:12-21 Just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men.
- 6:1-7:6 We know that our old self was crucified with Christ, that we may no longer be slaves to sin, but slaves instead to righteousness. Therefore, do not let sin reign in your mortal body.
- 7:7-25 But I find that when I want to do good, evil is right there with me - in my mind I am a slave to God's law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.
- 8:1-17 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, for the law of the Spirit of life has set me free from the law of sin and death.
- 8:18-27 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.
- 8:28-39 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.
- 9:1-29 God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.
- 9:30-10:21 The Gentiles have obtained a righteousness that is by faith, but Israel pursued a law of righteousness and did not attain it because they pursued it as if by works. Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.
- 11:1-32 Did God then reject his people? By no means. As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs.
- 11:33-36 Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
- 12:1-15:13 The Christian life
- 12:1-8 I urge you brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices.
- 12:9-21 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honour one another above yourselves.
- 13:1-7 Everyone must submit to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.
- 13:8-14 Love your neighbour as yourself.
- 14:1-15:13 Let us stop passing judgement on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother's way. Accept one another then, just as Christ accepted you.
- 15:14-16:27 Personal messages and discussion
- 15:14-22 Paul discusses his ministry under Christ to the Gentiles.
- 15:23-33 Paul tells of His desire to visit Rome.
- 16:1-16 Paul writes greetings to those he knows in Rome.
- 16:17-20 Paul warns of people who set out to cause divisions in the church.
- 16:21-27 Paul and his co-ministers send final greetings and give glory to God.
- Donfried, K.P. (Ed.), The Romans Debate (rev. ed.), Hendrickson Publishers, 1991.
- Morris, L., Pillar New Testament Commentary: Romans (Don Carson, Ed.), Eerdmans, 1988.
- Carson, D., Moo, D., Morris, L, An Introduction to the New Testament, Apollos, 1992.