Epistle to the Romans

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Paul's Epistle to the Romans (often referred to as simply "Romans") is the sixth book in the New Testament, and the 53rd book of the Eastern Orthodox Bible, the 52nd of the Catholic Bible, and 45th of the Protestant Bible. See Biblical Canon. It is the first of what are commonly called the "Pauline Epistles" (books of the Bible, originally letters, written by Paul). This Epistle appears based for its discussion of faith on the Epistle to the Hebrews, of which Paul may have had a copy.

This Epistle is considered perhaps the most important letter in all of Christianity. Many Christians would pick this letter "if they could only have one book of the Bible on a deserted island," observes The New Student Bible. The purpose of this Epistle is to preach to Roman Christians. Much of its focus is on doctrine, and some scholars believe that Paul was writing because the Romans did not understand the faith.

The first chapter of Romans ("Romans 1") contains the most stinging criticism of the liberal mindset of any writing, including:

They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God's righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.[1]

Romans contains a logical and straightforward condemnation of wickedness, including homosexuality (Romans 1:32 condemns even the approval of homosexuality by those who do not themselves practice it). Often-quoted passages of Romans include 1:18-32 (with verse 28 and its phrase "reprobate mind" being among the most quoted) and several verses used in an evangelistic tool commonly referred to as the "Roman Road" to salvation (often quoted in the order 3:23, 6:23, 5:8, 10:9 and 10:13).

Remarkably, Romans contains more references to "faith" than any other book in the Bible, except the much longer Psalms (which is the longest book by word count in the entire Bible).

Romans also contains a statement of natural law:

For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts ....[2]

Authorship and Audience

Written between A.D. 54 and 59 in Corinth by Paul (Rom. 16:1,23; 1 Cor. 1:14; 2 Tim. 4:20), before he departed to bring a collection to the poor saints at Jerusalem (Rom. 15:25-26). Its Divine inspiration has been held with great uniformity. Barnes states, "In the church it has never been called into question as a genuine, inspired book, except by three of the ancient sects deemed heretical - the Ebionites, the Encratites, and Cerinthians. However, even they did not deny that it was written by the apostle Paul. They rejected it because they could not make its doctrines harmonize with their views of other parts of the Scriptures." Even "modern scholars" agree that Paul was the author.

The first chapter establishes Jews and Gentiles as Paul's object of ministry, (Rom. 1:13-16) though specifically its direct object is understood to be Jewish sojourners in Rome, and Gentile proselytes to the Jewish religion.[3] It would have been written in Greek, which it is thought Paul was fluent in, and which Barnes notes "was then understood at Rome and extensively spoken. It was a part of polite education to learn it. The Roman youth were taught it; and it was the fashion of the times to study it, even so much so as to make it a matter of complaint that the Latin was neglected for it by the Roman youth. Thus, Cicero (Pro Arch. 10) says, “The Greek language is spoken in almost all nations; the Latin is confined to our comparatively narrow borders.”[4]

Presentation and Purpose

Adam Clarke notes that many see this epistle as containing three grand divisions.

  • I. The Preface, Romans 1:1-17.
  • II. The Tractation, or setting forth of the main subject, including two sections:
  • 1. Dogmatic, or what relates to doctrine.
  • 2. Paraenetic, or what relates to the necessity and importance of the virtues and duties of the Christian life.

The dogmatic part is included in the first eleven chapters, the grand object of which is to show that eternal salvation cannot be procured by any observance of the Jewish law, and can be hoped for only on the Christian scheme; for by the works of the law no man can be justified; but what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God has accomplished by sending his Son into the world, who, becoming an offering for sin, condemned sin in the flesh. The paraenetic part commences with Rom. 12:1 : I beseech you, therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service, etc.; and extends to Rom. 15:14.

Dr. Paley, with his usual perspicuity, has shown that the principal object of the argumentative part of the epistle is “to place the Gentile convert upon a parity of situation with the Jewish, in respect of his religious condition, and his rank in the Divine favor.”

III. The peroration or epilogue, which contains the author's apology for writing; his commendation of his apostolical office; his promise to visit them; his request of an interest in their prayers; his commendations of certain persons, and his salutations to others. These points are contained in the succeeding parts of the epistle, from Rom. 15:14 to Rom. 16:24.[5]

An additional commentary overview explains that,

The scope or design of the apostle in writing to the Romans appears to have been, to answer the unbelieving, and to teach the believing Jew; to confirm the Christian and to convert the idolatrous Gentile; and to show the Gentile convert as equal with the Jewish, in respect of his religious condition, and his rank in the Divine favour. These several designs are brought into on view, by opposing or arguing with the infidel or unbelieving Jew, in favour of the Christian or believing Gentile. The way of a sinner's acceptance with God, or justification in his sight, merely by grace, through faith in the righteousness of Christ, without distinction of nations, is plainly stated. This doctrine is cleared from the objections raised by Judaizing Christians, who were for making terms of acceptance with God by a mixture of the law and the gospel, and for shutting out the Gentiles from any share in the blessings of salvation brought in by the Messiah. In the conclusion, holiness is further enforced by practical exhortations.[6]


As Paul is seen as specifically providing a formal treatise on the actual means of salvation, not by the merit of our works but by "the gift of righteousness" (Rm. 5:17), it is often seen to be in tension (most particularly) with James 2, and has been abused by some as to mean that works are not necessary as an evidential outworking of saving faith, giving birth to antinomianism.

Romans 9 through 11 deals with predestination, the basis for which is the cause of disagreement between Arminianism and Calvinism.

Chapter 11 sees disagreement over the status of Israel by believers, with preterism and covenant theology holding that the church has taken the place of Israel, while futurism and dispensational theology (see eschatology) holding that the in the plan of God "Israel after the flesh" will yet turn to the Lord, and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation.[7]

Another notable issue is the lack of any mention of Peter in the epistle, even among the many friends Paul greets in chapter 16, an absence many Protestants see as conspicuous,[8] as the Roman Catholic church holds Peter to have been the head of the church there, and first pope.

A most recent controversy has been due to various attempts by pro-homosexual polemicists to portray Romans 1 from unconditionally condemning male and female homoeroticism.

Commentary on the Law

Romans 7:7-10 contains an interesting explanation of why the law needed to be replaced by a new standard:

What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me.

See also


  1. Romans 1:29-32
  2. {bibleref|Romans|2|14-16}} (ESV).
  3. Adam Clarke, LL.D., F.S.A., (1715-1832), Preface to the Epistle to the Romans
  4. Albert Barnes, Introduction to Romans
  5. Adam Clarke, ibid.
  6. Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary, Romans
  8. Barnes, ibid.

External links