Introduction to the Book of Romans
The Apostle Paul (Rom. 1:1). This epistle was dictated by Him and written by Tertius (Rom. 16:22).
According to the record of the Bible, Paul was primitively called Saul (Acts. 13:9), an Israelite, of tribe of Benjamin (Rom. 11:1), a Hebrew of Hebrews (Phil. 3:5) considering parentage. Paul was born in Tarsus of Cilicia, at the feet of the famous teacher Gamaliel, educated according to exactness of the Jewish law (Acts. 22:3). Afterwards, he became to live a Pharisee according to the strictest sect of the Judaism (Acts. 26:5) and was zealous for God and persecuted the assembly (Phil. 3:6). However, he did it ignorantly, in unbelief (1Tim. 1:13). One day, when he intended to go to Damascus to seize Christians, the Lord Jesus manifested to Him on his way (Acts. 9:1-5). He became a Christian henceforth and was called as apostle (Rom. 1:1). The apostleship of Paul was mainly towards the Gentiles (Gal. 2:8). He wrote altogether thirteen epistles in the New Testament, thus becoming the main exegete of the truth of Christianity.
II. The Time and Location the Book was Written
In about 56 AD to 58 AD, during the third journey of Paul, Paul remained three months in Greece (Acts. 20:1-3). He was just preparing to bring the contributions of all the churches in Greece to Jerusalem for the poor of the saints (Rom. 15:25-32; Acts. 19:21). When Paul wrote this epistle, he was dwelling in Gaius’s home (Rom. 16:23). This Gaius was the Gaius in Corinth (1Cor. 1:14). And Paul in this epistle commended the sister Phoebe, who was the minister of the assembly in Cenchrea, a harbor not far away from the east of Corinth. Therefore, the Bible scholars commonly believed that this book might be written in the city of Corinth in Greece, and Paul commended Phoebe to take this epistle to Rome.
III. The Recipients
Saints in Rome (Rom. 1:7) ---- most of them were Gentiles. Obviously, there were also many Jews there (see Rom. 4:1; 9-11).
We do not know who built the church in Rome. There are several possibilities according to the Holy Bible:
1. On the Day of Pentecost, there were visitors from Rome, including the Jews and the gentiles in Judaism (Acts. 2:10). Probably, there were someone who were saved and came back to Rome and thus the Lord’s testimony was established. It was also possible that after Stephen’s was martyred, there arose a great persecution against the assembly in Jerusalem. Those who had been scattered went through announcing the glad tidings of the word, and some of them might go to Rome. Paul mentioned two fellow-workers who were also in Christ before him (Rom. 16:7). Perhaps, they were among the two kinds of above-mentioned believers who went to do the Lord’s work in Rome.
2. Paul mentioned many believers whom he was familiar with. He had ever met some of them in other places, such as Prisca and Aquila (Rom. 16:3-4; Acts 18:2-3), and Rufus and his mother, Paul said, “his mother is mine” (Rom. 16:13). Perhaps they moved to dwell in Rome due to personal reasons, thus becoming the chief members of the assembly in Rome.
According to the salutation of this book, we can see that the assembly in Rome had at least three gatherings in different places at that time (Rom. 16:3-5, 14-15). However, the executive center of the assembly was set in the home of Prisca and Aquila (Rom. 16:5).
IV. The Motivation for Writing this Epistle
There were at least three purposes for Paul to write this epistle:
1. At that time, Paul’s ministration of the gospel among the provinces in the east of the Roman Empire was just over. He desired to go to open the door of the gospel in Spain. And he had to go through Rome if he went to Spain. Therefore, Paul intended to establish close relationship with the assembly in Rome through this epistle, thus supporting his works afterwards to the westward. Therefore, he had to let the saints there clearly know his vision and burden.
2. Paul greatly desired to go to Rome, that he might impart to the saints there some spiritual gift to establish and comfort them (Rom. 1:10-15). Rome was the capital of the Roman Empire at that time as well as the political center of the whole world. If the assembly in Rome was established and strengthened, it would be greatly profitable to preach the gospel to the whole world.
3. Paul could not make sure whether he could arrive at Rome safely. Perhaps he would be bound or even suffer in Jerusalem (Acts. 20:22-24; 21:12-13) before going to Rome. Therefore, he asked all the saints in Rome to pray for him (Rom. 15:30-32). If he could not go to Rome, this book would at least provide a good material for them to be built up, especially the basic truth concerning the salvation.
V. The Importance of this Book
The Book of Romans is so important that it is listed as the first one among all the epistles of the Bible. Martin Luther called the Book of Romans was the abstract of the gospel. He also said that as long as the Christianity had the Gospel of John and the Book of Romans, it would not be destroyed and would be still manifested. He also encouraged believers to read and even intensively read the book. He said, the more one read the Book of Romans, the more its treasure one would find. Calvin also witnessed: “if anyone understands this book, he has found the way of the whole Bible”.
In fact, among all the books of the Bible, this book is the most influential one in the history of the church. Augustus repented after reading the 13th chapter of this book. Martin Luther understood the truth “justification by faith” through this book and set off the revolution of religion. John Wesley received the assurance of being saved after he had heard Martin Luther’s commentary of the Book of Romans that was read aloud by others.
In a word, this book is the scriptures of scriptures, which surpasses other books in the greatness of the theme, the frequency of quotations of the Old Testament, the width of the sphere of things it mentions, as well as the fullness of the salvation that God had predestined.
VI. Main Structure and General Description
This book can be mainly divided into three parts, according to the words “according to” in the epilogue (16:25-26) of this book:
1. “According to my glad tidings and the preaching of Jesus Christ” ---- the content of God’s glad tidings is made know from chapter 1 to chapter 8. Paul announced firstly the sin of all mankind in the sight of God so as to render men inexcusable, and then pointed out a way for men to evade the death and to be justified by faith in Jesus Christ. Then men will be sanctified by devoting themselves and their body will be transformed and thus be raised up and be glorified eventually.
2. “According to revelation of mystery” ---- the dispensation of God’s glad tidings is shown form chapter 9 to chapter 11. God firstly chose the Israel in His divine sovereignty, and then made the salvation come to the nations because of the fall of the Israel, and finally God will provoke the Israel by the nations, and all Israel shall be saved, thus manifesting the rich and untraceable wisdom of God.
3. “According to commandment of the eternal God, by prophetic scriptures, made known to all the nations” ---- the effect of God’s glad tidings is revealed from chapter 12 to 16. God presents the condition through His words that believers should have after being saved ---- to put on Christ and live for Christ who died and rose and manifest Christ among al the nations, to the glory of only wise God, through Jesus Christ.
To sum up, the incarnated and risen Christ is the glad tidings granted by God. The full salvation of God in Christ shall come to all those who have been chosen in His predestination. Moreover, God will work on all believers through His Son Jesus Christ, thus making them achieve the full end of salvation.
VII. Special Points
There are special points of this book as follows:
1. This book is well-organized and is the most systemized one among all the epistles of Paul. It reads like detailed theological statements, not an epistle.
2. This book had abundant and profound knowledge. The variety and importance of the theological subjects this book involves exceed other epistles, e.g.: sin, salvation, grace, faith, righteousness, justification, sanctification, redemption, death and resurrection.
3. This book is the great masterpiece of the author who quotes the Old Testament ingeniously and agilely. Though Paul often quoted the Old Testament in his epistles, he testified the truth in the Book of Romans by quoting a stream of scriptures in the Old Testament. In his reasoning, he frequently quoted the scriptures of the Old Testament (especially chapter 9 to 11).
4. This book shows us that the author is deeply concerned about the Israel. Paul mentioned the present condition of the Israel and their relationship with the nations and that they will be finally saved.
5. The wording of this book is artful, and is particular in different paragraphs, e.g. from chapter 1 to chapter 8, it talks about the Lord’s salvation. The eight chapters can be divided into two parts. The first is from 1:1 to 5:11, mentioning the blood without the cross. And the word “sins” in the plural is noticeable therein. Men’s sins are remitted and men are then justified by God through the blood. The second part is from verse 12 of chapter 5 to the end of chapter 8, speaking of the cross merely without the blood. And the word “sins” in the plural does not appear therein, but the word “sin” in the singular is used repeatedly in this part. The first part points that the blood deals with “what we have done”, and the second part speaks that the cross deals with “what we are”.
6. In the sixth chapter, there are two kings ---- sin and grace ---- sin reigns in one’s “self”, but grace reigns through righteousness; there are two husbands in the seventh chapter ---- the law and Christ ---- man is delivered from the law by death and thus be unto Christ; there are two leaders in the eighth chapter ---- the flesh and the Spirit ---- after the flesh mind or after the Spirit.
7. In the Book of Romans, the word “law” has appeared for seventy times in different meanings, which can be divided into at least fives sorts as below:
a. It refers to the Law of Moses, e.g. “you are called a Jew, and rest in the law” (Rom. 2:17). Obviously, the law here refers to the Law of Moses owned by the Jews only.
b. It refers to the Old Testament as a whole, e.g. “we know that whatever the things the law says, it speaks to those under the law” (Rom. 3:19), here “whatever the things the law says” speak of the words from 3:10 to 3:18 that are quoted from the scriptures of both the Book of Psalm and the Book of Isaiah in the Old Testament. Therefore, the law here refers to the Old Testament.
c. It refers to the Pentateuch, e.g. “being witnessed by the law and the prophets” (Rom 3:21). The law here speaks of the Pentateuch, and prophet represents the Books of Prophets.
d. It refers to the principle of judging whether right or wrong, e.g. “By what law? Of works? No, but by law of faith (Rom. 3:27)”, the “law” here means the general principle.
e. It refers to the nature and inclination in life, e.g. “law of my mind” and “the law of sin which exists in my members” (Rom. 7:23), referring to the struggle of good against evil in one’s life. And another example is “the law of life and the Spirit” (Rom. 8:2) ---- it is the “law of God’s life” that man has obtained after he has born again in the Lord.
VIII. Its Relations with the Book of Corinthians and the Book of Galatians
The subjects that Paul mentioned in the epistles to the Corinthians appear in the Book of Romans again. The matter concerning food in the First Book of Corinthians (8:1-13; 10:14-11:1) is similar to the content of the Book of Romans from 14:1 to 15:6. The relationship between the members and the body in the twelfth chapter (12:12-31) of the First Book of Corinthians is also mentioned in the Book of Romans, from 12:3 to12:8. The comparison between Adam and Christ in the First Book of Corinthians (15:21-22, 45-50) is the same as that in the Book of Romans (5:12-19). The matter of contributions to the assembly in Jerusalem mentioned in both the First Book of Corinthians (16:1-4) and the Second Book of Corinthians (8:1-9:15) is also talked about in the Book of Romans (15:25-32). Some scriptures in the Book of Romans show that this book was written later than the First Book of Corinthians and the Second Book of Corinthians. For example, the scriptures in the Book of Romans from 8:2 to 8:25 repeat many points of the content in the Second Book of Corinthians, 3:17-5:10. Someone describes such condition as “bringing freely a familiar logic structure into full play in two different cases”. Therefore, we can infer that Paul wrote these three books in close time.
However, the book that has the closest relation with the Book of Romans should be the Book of Galatians. Paul illustrated the gospel of justification by faith clearly in both of the two books. We can see by contrast that the Book of Galatians must be finished earlier. The way of the demonstration to the assembly in Galatia is rather pressing and particular. And yet the statements in the Book of Romans become more systemized. J. B. Lightfoot set a parable that the Book of Galatians and the Book of Romans is like “a rough model and an accomplished and perfect sculpture”. There is also someone who says that if the Book of Galatians is the “Great Charter of Liberties”, the Book of Romans will be the more detailed “Constitution”. This book expounds and explains the key doctrines mentioned in the Book of Galatians in a more detailed and comprehensive way.
IX. Key Verses
“The gospel…concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.” (Rom. 1:2-4).
“For it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes…for in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith” (Rom. 1:16-17).
“Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.” (Rom. 8:30).
X. Key Words
“Faith” (Rom. 1:17; 3:22…) 58 times altogether;
“Righteousness” (Rom. 1:17; 3:26…) 36 times altogether;
XI. Outlines of the Book
1. Foreword ---- the introduction of God’s gospel (1:1-15);
2. God’s righteousness ---- the manifestation of God’s gospel (1:16-17);
3. Judgment ---- the world’s need for the gospel (1:18-3:20);
a. The gentiles are judged (1:18-32).
b. The Jews are judged (2:1-3:8).
c. The conclusion: all the people are judged (3:9-20).
4. Justification ---- the way and result of receiving the gospel for the world (3:21-5:21);
a. Be justified by Christ (3:21-26);
b. Be justified by faith (3:27-4:25);
1) The principle of justification by faith (3:27-31);
2) The example of justification by faith (4:1-25);
c. The fruit of being justified (5:1-11);
d. The truth of being justified (5:12-21);
5. Sanctification ---- the way of being sanctified for believers (6:1-8:13);
a. The mystery of being sanctified ---- by the union with Christ (6:1-23);
1) If we “have been united” together with His death, certainly we also shall “be united” with His resurrection (6:1-5).
2) If we “have known” that we died with Christ, we will believe that we shall also live with Him (6:6-10).
3) One shall “reckon” himself to be dead indeed to sin, but alive in Christ (6:11).
4) If we “present ourselves to” God and righteousness, we will be sanctified (6:12-23).
b. The struggle of being sanctified ---- be bound by the sin that abides in the flesh (7:1-25);
1) Two husbands ---- one can only be dead to the law and then be unto Christ (7:1-6);
2) Three laws ---- the law of God, the law of one’s mind and the law of sin in one’s members (7:7-25).
c. The way of being sanctified ---- be released by the law of the Spirit of life through abiding in Christ (8:1-13);
1) The law of the Spirit of life ---- which delivers men from the law of Spirit and life (8:1-6);
2) The indwelling Christ ---- through whom, men can put to death the deeds of the body (8:7-13).
6. Be glorified ---- wait for the adoption, the redemption of our body (8:14-39);
a. The glorious heirs ---- though we suffer with Him, we have the hope of glory. Therefore, we shall eagerly wait for it with perseverance (8:14-25).
b. The fulfillments of being glorified ---- the help of the divine Trinity (8:26-39):
1) The intercession of the Holy Spirit ---- who strengthens those who are weak (8:26-27);
2) The will of God the Father ---- be conformed to the image of His Son (8:28-30);
3) The love of Christ ---- be more than conquerors in everything (8:31-39);
7. Be chosen ---- it is not of works but of grace (9:1-11:36):
a. God’s election is of Himself (9:1-29):
1) God chose Isaac ---- the word of God has taken no effect (9:1-9).
2) God chose Jacob ---- it is not of works but of God who calls (9:10-13).
3) God chose the people ---- it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy (9:14-18).
4) God chose the vessels which He had prepared for glory ---- it is of God’s sovereignty (9:19-29).
b. The premise of God’s election (9:30-10:18):
1) Through the righteousness of faith ---- the people of Israel had not attained to the law of righteousness, for they did not seek it by faith, but by works (9:30-10:3).
2) Through Christ (10:4-18);
a) Christ is the end of the law (10:4).
b) Christ had been dead and rose again for us (10:5-7).
c) The way of being saved is to believe and call on Him (10:8-13).
d) Calling on Christ comes from believing God’s words, and believing God’s words springs from hearing God’s words, and hearing God’s words is from preaching God’s words (10:14-18).
c. The wisdom of God’s election (10:19-11:36):
1) The Israel has not been completely cast away ---- there is a remnant according to the election of grace (10:19-11:10).
2) Through the fall of the people of Israel, salvation has come to the Gentiles ---- the cultivated olive tree and the wild olive tree, the root of the tree and the branches of the tree (11:11-24).
3) All Israel will be saved until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in ---- the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable (11:25-32).
4) Praise unto God’s election (11:33-36).
8. Be transformed ---- the transformation of believers’ conduct, and its mystery, principle and example (12:1-16:24):
a. The mystery of the transformation of believers’ conduct (12:1-2):
1) Present one’s bodies to God and serve God (12:1);
2) Be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of mind (12:2);
b. The principle the transformation of believers’ conduct (12:3-15:13):
1) In the divine serve ---- according to the gifts given to us (12:3-8);
2) In dealing with saints ---- manifest the good virtue in life (12:9-16);
3) In dealing with evil ones ---- to conquer evil by good (12:17-21);
4) In dealing with the governing authorities ---- be subject to and honor them (13:1-7);
5) In dealing with all the people ---- to love your neighbor as yourself (13:8-10);
6) In dealing with the social tide ---- put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh (13:11-14);
7) In the matter of receiving each other among believers (14:1-15:13)
a) Receive one who is weak in the faith, for the Lord is his master (14:1-9);
b) Let us not judge one another, for each of us shall give account of himself to God (14:10-12).
c) We shall walk in love and resolve not to put a stumbling block to fall our brother (14:13-16).
d) We shall seek the reality of the kingdom of God ---- righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (14:17-23).
e) We shall receive one another, just as Christ also received us (15:1-13).
c. The example of the transformation of believers’ conduct ---- the Apostle Paul (15:14-16:24)
1) He was a zealous in Judaism, but was now a minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles (15:14-19).
2) He was determined to fully preach the glad tidings, to the end of the earth (15:20-29).
3) He begged all the saints to strive together with him in prayers to God (15:30-33).
4) He respected and was concerned about all the saints (16:1-16).
5) He reminded all the saints to be aware of backsliders (16:17-20).
6) He showed greetings on behalf of other saints (16:21-24).
9. The epilogue ---- blessed be God who preached the glad tidings by Paul to manifest His mystery (16:25-27).
── Caleb Huang《Christian Digest Bible Commentary Series》
Translated by Mary Zhou