INTRODUCTION TO PAUL’S EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS (Series)
by John Lowe
INTRODUCTION TO PAUL’S EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
Author The apostle Paul wrote the Epistle to the Romans. Paul, who at birth received the Jewish name Saul, was born in the city of Tarsus located in Cilicia (Acts 22:3). His birth occurred probably between a.d. 1 and 5. Although he grew up in Greek culture, Paul remained loyal to his Hebrew heritage (Phil. 3:5). As citizens of Rome, members of his family were probably wealthy and socially influential (Acts 22:28). A Pharisee, Saul received the finest available education from the renowned teacher Gamaliel (Acts 22:3; Gal. 1:14). Not only did Saul adhere to a life governed by the Law of Moses, but most likely he followed its strictest interpretations laid down by generations of Jewish teachers.
Saul launched vicious attacks on the followers of Christ (Acts 8:1–3). In the midst of his authorized and fanatical pursuit of the followers of “the Way,” he was blinded by a supernatural light and heard the voice of Jesus Christ (Acts 9:1–19). Confronted by Christ Himself, Paul’s life was permanently redirected. His passion as a messenger for Christ was as dedicated as had been his former role as persecutor. Changing his name to the Greek “Paul” (Acts 13:9), he proclaimed Christ’s “Good News” to the Gentiles with an all-consuming passion.
In his lifetime, Paul launched at least four missionary journeys into previously unreached countries (3 recorded in Acts), survived tremendous opposition and hardship, and wrote letters to instruct and encourage those who had become believers Imprisonment often resulted from Paul’s disagreement with the religious legalism of the Jews. The Book of Acts ends with Paul under house arrest in his own rented house in Rome (Acts 28:30, 31). Events surrounding the end of Paul’s life are uncertain. After a possible release and a later imprisonment in Rome, Paul may have been tried and executed for his continued proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ (see 2 Tim.), which he expressed in his letter to the church at Rome.
Date Paul probably wrote this letter to the Christians in Rome from Corinth between a.d. 55 and 59 on his third missionary journey, perhaps in the winter of a.d. 57. At the time Paul wrote to the church at Rome, he had never visited that church. He was preparing to go to Jerusalem and personally deliver a significant offering the churches had collected for the needy Christians in Jerusalem. Paul was uncertain regarding what might happen to him in Jerusalem. He, therefore, wrote his theology and sent it to Rome because he could foresee the strategic importance of that church for the future.
Background Information Setting: The Roman church may have been formed by believers who heard Peter’s message during the celebration of Pentecost (Acts 2). Paul had never visited the church at Rome, but he recognized the strategic significance of the church there. Therefore Paul shared in detail the basic doctrine of Christianity with these believers.
Purpose: Paul had several purposes in writing to the Roman church. He wrote the Book of Romans to explain why he had been delayed in visiting the Roman believers and to prepare the way for his anticipated visit (Rom. 1:10–13). Paul wanted the Romans to know that he had not abandoned his mission to the Gentiles. He wanted them to know he had not lost confidence in the gospel of Christ for all people (Rom. 1:16). Paul also desired to promote unity and to resolve a possible conflict between Jewish and Gentile Christians.
Audience: The letter is addressed to Christians in Rome. Paul had neither founded nor visited the church at Rome, which consisted of both Jews and Gentiles. The variety of backgrounds and interpretations within that church called for a clear, concise communication of the work of Christ. Paul’s focus was upon Christ’s life, death, and Resurrection.
Literary Characteristics: Paul’s letter to the Romans has the literary framework of a lawyer establishing his case carefully and accurately. Of all Paul’s letters, the Epistle to the Romans comes closest to being a systematic theological thesis. Through the literary form of a letter (with greeting, body of information, and closing signature) and the application of his skills in questioning the bogus arguments of false teachers, Paul presented a clear explanation of God’s purposes throughout history, culminating in the sending of His Son for the salvation of all who would turn to Him in faith.
Themes The major theme of Romans is that of righteousness received as a gift from God, not achieved by works of the Law (Rom. 1:16, 17). Salvation comes by grace through faith (Rom. 3:21–31). Other themes include mankind’s rejection of God’s revelation, death to sin and life in Christ by the Holy Spirit’s power, Christian freedom, God’s sovereignty, God’s plan of salvation as encompassing Gentiles as well as Jews, obedience to Christ involving sacrificial commitment, and practical Christian living.
(1) The Need of Both Jews and Gentiles for Salvation (1:18–3:20)
(2) God’s Provision of Salvation (3:21–5:21)
(3) Sanctification and the Believer (6:1–8:34)
(4) The Salvation of Israel (9:1–11:36)
(5) The Application of Salvation in Life (12:1–15:13)