Romans, Epistle to the
ROMANS, EPISTLE TO THE
The longest and theologically most significant epistle of the Pauline corpus. This article will discuss the epistle's purpose and provenance, its authenticity and integrity, and its addressees; an outline and an analysis of its contents will then be given, followed by an explanation of its significance.
Purpose and provenance. The Epistle to the Romans is the least like a real letter of all the Pauline epistles because of its developed, treatise-like exposition of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It was written at the end of Paul's third missionary journey, probably during the winter of c. a.d. 57–58, just before he was about to return to Jerusalem with the collection for the poor of the Jerusalem mother church (Rom 15.25–26) taken up in various Gentile churches that he had founded (in Macedonia, Achaia, and Galatia). This return to Jerusalem was for Paul the end of missionary work in the eastern Mediterranean area (15.19–20,23). The gesture of help from the Gentile churches where his work had been successful was intended to convince the Jewish Christians of Judea of the solidarity of Gentile Christians in the same spiritual blessings that they enjoyed and of the Gentiles' recognition of the debt owed by them. Having desired for some time to evangelize the West, Paul turned his gaze toward Spain and hoped to visit Rome en route (15.23–24). After the journey to Jerusalem, his hopes were to be realized at last. Accordingly, he was emboldened to write this letter, from Corinth, to introduce himself to the already existing Christian community of Rome in view of his impending visit. As he wrote, he was aware that the Roman Church had already been founded by someone else (15.20). He hoped, nevertheless, that even a brief sojourn there would have some salutary effect among the Christians of the capital, even as it had had among heathens elsewhere (1.13). However, conscious of his apostolic commission, he fashioned his letter of introduction into an extended exposition of his understanding of the gospel (1.16–17), which he was eager to preach to people in Rome too.
Romans is not a summary of Christian doctrine, or Paul's "last will and testament," or even a complete sketch of his teaching, because some of his characteristic teachings are significantly absent from it (Church, Eucharist, resurrection of the body, eschatology). It is rather a presentation of his missionary reflections on the historic possibility of salvation now offered in the gospel to all human beings. Through faith in Christ Jesus, whose death and resurrection are proclaimed as the means that opened up a new mode of salvation, people can now be justified in God's sight—by grace and without any concern for "deeds of the Law" (3.20–24). In Romans Paul presents the vast implications of the gospel that have dawned on him as a result of his recent missionary endeavors in that phase of his apostolate now coming to a close. Romans resembles Galatians (see galatians, epistle to the) in that it treats of justification and faith, of the relation of Christ to the Mosaic law (see law, mosaic), and of God's gracious and salvific uprightness. But while Galatians is a vehement letter, written in the heat of combat against a Judaizing error, Romans is an irenic, reflective presentation of much of the same doctrine with a slightly different emphasis and in a context devoid of polemics. Analogously, Galatians is to Romans as Colossians is to Ephesians.
Authenticity and integrity. Just as in antiquity, the Pauline authorship of Romans is almost universally admitted today. The few dissenting voices of the nineteenth century are no longer given serious consideration. Only in the case of the final doxology (16.25–27) is there a
problem today. Its authenticity has been questioned (1) because of the uncertain, varying position it has in several manuscripts of Romans [after 16.23 in the Hesychian tradition and mansucript D; after 14.23 in the Koine tradition; after 15.33 in P46 (oldest manuscript of Romans); after both 14.23 and 16.23 in manuscripts A, P; completely lacking in manuscript G and Marcion's text]; (2) because of its style—a long periodic sentence with vocabulary typical of liturgical hymns; (3) because of the mention of the divine "mystery" [see mystery (in the bible)] applied to the salvation of the Gentiles—an expression characteristic of later Pauline letters. Certainty in this matter is impossible; but one cannot exclude the possibility that the doxology is a later addition, added at the time of the formation of the Pauline corpus [J. Dupont, Revue Bénédictine 58 (1948) 3–22].
A more problematic part of Romans is 16.1 to 16.23 (16.24 is not in the best Greek manuscripts and only repeats a part of 16.20). While the Pauline authorship of verses 1 to 23 is not normally contested, the question is often raised whether it belonged to the original form of Romans, since Marcion's text omitted chapters 15 and 16, and the oldest manuscript of Romans (P46) puts the final doxology after 15.33. Furthermore, 16.1 to 16, or at least 16.1 to 16.2, reads like a letter of recommendation that Paul wrote for Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchreae (port of Corinth); it resembles ancient letters of introduction preserved in Greek papyri that begin abruptly with "I recommend" [see A. Deissmann, Light from the Ancient East (London 1910) 226]. But are the greetings in 16.3 to 16.16 sent to the Roman community—or to the Ephesian church? According to a number of modern commentators (e.g. D. Schulz, R. Bultmann, E. Käsemann, G. Bornkamm, K. Lake, J. Moffatt), Rom 16.1 to 16.23 is really a fragment of a letter written by Paul to Ephesus, since Paul greets in it Prisca and Aquila, who had settled in Ephesus (Acts 18.18, 26; cf. 1 Cor 16.19; 2 Tm 4.19). He also salutes Epaenetus, "the first convert for Christ in Asia" (Rom 16.5), and at least 23 others by name. He is familiar with the groups that meet in various house-churches (16.5, 14, 15). Hence such commentators ask: Would Paul have known so many people in Rome and be so familiar with conditions there? Finally, the admonition in 16.17 to 16.20 is so different in tone from the rest of Romans that another group of people seems to be addressed here. None of these considerations, however, are strong enough to convince the majority of interpreters that Paul has written these verses with the Ephesian church in view. In particular, H. Gamble has shown that Romans would be a strange epistle in the Pauline corpus if 16.1 to 16.23 were not considered part of it (The Textual History of the Letter to the Romans, Studies and Documents 42; Grand Rapids, Mich.1977).
Addressees. The problematic end of Romans (chap.16) and the fact that the phrase "at Rome" (ἐν Ῥώμῃ,1.7, 15) is missing in a few manuscripts (mainly G) have led some modern scholars to propose the view that Romans was really composed as a "circular letter" destined for more than one church [T. W. Manson, Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 31 (1948) 224–240; J. Munck, Paul and the Salvation of Mankind (London, 1959) 197–200]. Chapters 1 to 15 would have been sent only to Rome (with the doxology as in P46), but the form with chapter 16 would have been sent to Ephesus. However, the omission of ἐν Ῥώμῃ in relatively unimportant text-witnesses and the other reasons advanced for this hypothesis have not been generally accepted.
The character of the Roman church was once much discussed as an important element in the understanding of this letter. Was it predominantly Jewish-Christian (T. Zahn, F. Leenhardt) or predominantly Gentile-Christian (Sanday-Headlam, M. J. Lagrange, S. Lyonnet, O. Michel)? Much of this discussion is idle, once it is realized that Paul writes to introduce himself to a community that he does not know personally. The only specific problem of the Roman church that apparently has been reported to him is that of the "weak" and the "strong" in 14.1 to 15.13. Otherwise he is presenting his reflections on the gospel that have been derived from his recent missionary endeavors and conflicts in the East. He writes as "an apostle" (1.1), as one "commissioned to urge all heathens to the obedience of faith" (1.5), as the "apostle of the Gentiles" (11.13). Consequently, he considers the Roman addressees as Christians converted mainly from paganism (1.6, 11–15; 11.13, 16–32), although he is aware of the mixed character of the community (4.1, 12;9.10).
- I. Introduction (1.1–15): Address and Greeting (1.1–7); Thanksgiving (1.8–9); Paul's desire to come to Rome (1.10–15).
- II. Part I (1.16–11.36): Doctrinal Section: God's gospel of Jesus Christ Our Lord.
- A. Through the gospel God's uprightness is revealed, justifying people of faith (1.16–4.25).
- 1. The theme announced (1.16–17): The gospel is the powerful source of salvation for all disclosing God's uprightness.
- 2. The theme negatively explained (1.18–3.20): Without the gospel God's wrath is manifested against all people.
- a. Against heathens (1.18–32).
- b. Against Jews—indeed, against all human beings (2.1–3.20).
- 3. The theme positively explained (3.21–31): God's uprightness toward all sinners is shown graciously through Christ and apprehended in faith.
- 4. The theme illustrated in the Old Testament (4.1–25): Abraham was justified by faith, not by deeds.
- B. The love of God assures salvation to those justified through faith (5.1–8.39).
- 1. The theme announced (5.1–11): The justified Christian is reconciled to God and will be saved, sharing, with hope, in the risen life of Christ.
- 2. The theme explained (5.12–8.39): The new Christian life brings a threefold liberation.
- a. Freedom from sin and death (5.12–21).
- b. Freedom from sin and self through baptism and union with Christ (6.1–23).
- c. Freedom from the Law (7.1–25).
- 3. The theme developed (8.1–39): Christian life is empowered by the Spirit.
- C. Justification and Salvation through faith do not contradict God's promises to Israel of old.
- 1. Israel's failure is not contrary to God's control of human history (9.1–29).
- 2. It comes from Israel's own culpable refusal (9.30–10.21).
- 3. It is partial and temporary (11.1–36).
- III. Part II (12.1–15.13): Hortatory Section: The demands of upright life in Christ.
- A. Christian life must be a Spirit-guided worship paid to God (12.1–13.14).
- B. The duty of charity owed by the strong to the weak (14.1–15.13).
- IV. Personal News (15.14–33): Paul's apostolate and plans. Final blessing (15.33).
- V. Conclusion: Letter of Recommendation for Phoebe and greetings to various Roman Christians (16.1–23). [Doxology (16.25–27)]
Analysis of Contents. The opening formula, customary in a Pauline letter, incorporates phrases typical of the primitive kerygma (1.2–4) and key ideas of the letter itself (divine election, faith, gospel, salvation by Christ's death and resurrection). After invoking upon the Roman Christians his usual blessing of "grace and peace"(1.6–7), Paul apologizes in the "Thanksgiving" and prelude (1.8–15) for not having visited Rome earlier. He promises to come and preach God's gospel there too. Chapter 1.16 to 1.17 formulates Paul's main proposition: The gospel is God's power effecting the salvation of everyone who believes, Jew first and then Greek, for in it God's salvific uprightness is disclosed.
In the first part of the doctrinal section, the theme of the revelation of God's uprightness in the gospel is developed—at first antithetically. For those without the gospel, God's wrath is manifested against the universal impiety of human beings (1.18–3.20). Heathens, who have suppressed the truth about God and failed to honor and acknowledge Him who has made Himself perceptible in creation, incur this wrath inexcusably. They have been handed over consequently to the degrading pursuit of unnatural vice and indecent conduct (1.18–32). The Jew who listens to this indictment of heathen conduct may applaud, but he is really no better (2.1–3.9), for despite his possession and knowledge of the Mosaic law, he too incurs God's wrath for not observing it. God, indeed, shows no partiality. When at times pagans instinctively do some of the things that the Mosaic law prescribes, these are known to them, being written on their hearts. But then it would seem that the Jews are at a disadvantage despite their privileged heritage (3.1). Paul reassures them, but he quickly turns again to accuse them of infidelity, for "Jews and Greeks alike are under sin" (3.9), as Old Testament testimonia show. No one can boast, because in the sight of God no one becomes upright by observing the Mosaic law (3.20).
The first theme is now positively developed (3.21–28). God's uprightness has been disclosed quite independently of the Law—through faith in Christ. For though all people have sinned and are deprived of God's resplendent presence, God Himself has exposed Christ publicly as the means of expiating human sin [see expia tion (in the bible)], and this justification takes place out of sheer benevolence [see grace (in the bible)]. God did this to manifest His uprightness, to show that He was upright in making people of faith upright.
This theme is now illustrated from Scripture (4.1–25). A reflection on the Genesis story of Abraham, which differs from contemporary Jewish understanding of the patriarch's observance of the Mosaic law, explains how he became upright in God's sight through faith. He was justified, even before he was circumcised; and the promises God made to him were uttered long before the Mosaic law. So Abraham is the father of all those who come to justification through faith. The chapter ends with a significant proclamation of the role played by both the death and the resurrection of Christ in the justification of human beings.
A new theme is announced in 5.1 to 5.11: Justified Christians are reconciled to God and will be saved through the love of God made manifest in Christ. Through the Spirit poured into human hearts, the Christian is assured of the glory he or she will share. This theme is explained, first of all, in terms of a threefold freedom. As sin entered the world and affected all human beings through the transgression of one man (Adam), and death came in its wake, so through the obedience of one man (Christ, the Adam of the eschaton) came freedom from sin and death (5.12–21). In refuting an objection—that if this is so, then one should sin, so that God's grace might abound the more—Paul asserts the second freedom: freedom from sin and self through union with Christ Jesus (6.1–23). By Baptism the Christian has been identified with the death and resurrection of Christ. Risen now to a new life, the Christian cannot submit himself (his body, his flesh) to the reign of sin. The Christian's whole outlook is centered now on God alone. The third freedom is from the Mosaic law (7.1–25). Having died with Christ in Baptism, the Christian is one to whom the Mosaic law no longer applies. Despite its basic goodness, the Mosaic law never gave people the wherewithal to overcome the conflict that they sense within them. For while the mind acknowledges God's law, the ego, dominated by indwelling sin, does not follow its directives. So the Mosaic law only made people more conscious of their conduct as a formal transgression, thus aggravating the offense and serving as an instrument of sin. From this bondage to the Mosaic law, Christ has freed those who come to faith (7.25–8.2).
The positive development of the new theme follows (8.1–39): Christians live a life in union with God through the indwelling Spirit of God. The Spirit is the dynamic principle of the new life, making Christians adoptive children of God and co-heirs of Christ, destined to share his risen glory. To this status even the groaning material universe, Christian hope itself, and the Spirit testify. A hymn to the bounteous love of God manifested in Christ concludes the chapter.
How does Israel of old fit into this new mode of salvation based on faith? With the aid of Old Testament passages, Paul discusses the "rejection of Israel," that is, its failure to accept Christ. Paul is pained at the condition of his former coreligionists, privileged of old, but now excluded by their obstinacy from Christ (9.1–33). Israel's failure is not contrary to God's direction of human history, however, for it conforms to the pattern of divine elec tion manifested in the Old Testament toward the patriarchs and even the pharaoh. "God's message has not failed" (9.6). However, physical descent from Abraham is not enough for salvation. Now that pagans through faith have attained the uprightness for which Israel was striving, they have been incorporated into Israel and are children of Abraham. If Israel has failed to accept Christ, this is not due to God, but only to itself (10.1–21). However, this rejection is only partial and temporary. God has not repudiated His people, for a remnant of it has come to faith. Yet because of the failure of many in Israel, salvation has been extended to pagans—a thing in itself providential. "So all Israel shall be saved" (11.26). Gentile Christians are not to look down on the Jews, for their salvation depends on the Jews. Gentile Christians are only a wild olive shoot grafted into the trunk of salvation history identified long ago with Israel's history; a place is still left on it for Israel to be grafted back in, into its own true place (11.1–36).
In the hortatory section Paul proposes various demands of the Christian life. Christian existence, as an act of Spirit-guided worship paid to God in the unity of the Body of Christ, must overcome evil with good (12.1–21). Civil rulers must be respected as ministers of God (13.1–7). For Christians, the epitome of the Mosaic law is, "Love your neighbor as yourself" (13.8–14). The weak (Jewish Christians of Rome) are to be helped by the strong (Roman Gentile Christians); neither is to judge the other, for both are members of God's household (14.1–15.13).
Paul appends personal news (15.14–33), explaining his apostolate, his journey to Jerusalem with the collection for the poor, and his desire to come to Rome en route to Spain. His farewell blessing is given in 15.33. Paul concludes with a letter of recommendation for Phoebe, in which he greets many Roman Christians (16:1–13) [Doxology (16.25–27].
Significance. Romans heads the Pauline corpus because of its length, but that primary place also reflects the renown it has enjoyed in the Christian Church, for its influence on Christian life and theology has been inestimable. Though addressed to a particular church and reflecting a specific conflict in Paul's ministry, the solution proposed in it lends itself easily to application to similar problems in the lives of all Christians. Romans influenced the composition of other New Testament books (1 Peter, Hebrews, James); it was widely quoted by Church Fathers (beginning with Clement of Rome); patristic commentaries on it abound (e.g., Origen, Chrysostom, Ambrosiaster). This letter played a large part in the controversies of Pelagius and Augustine and in the work of the Protestant reformers (Luther, Melanchthon, Calvin). Finally, many parts of it have provided the starting point for dogmatic development in the tradition of the Church (e.g., Original Sin, Grace and Justification, Trinity, Baptism).
Bibliography: Commentaries. o. kuss (3 pts., chpts. 1–11; Regensburg 1957–1978). f. leenhardt, Commentaire du Nouveau Testament 6 (2d. ed., Neuchâtel/Paris 1981). j. huby, Verbum Salutis 10 (rev. S. Lyonnet; Paris 1957). c. e. b. cranfield, International Critical Commentary, 2 v. (Edinburgh 1975, 1979). h. schlier, Herders theologischer Kommentar zum Neuen Testament 6 (Freiburg im B. 1977). j. a. fitzmyer, Anchor Bible 33 (New York 1993), with extensive bibliog. d. j. moo, (Grand Rapids, Mich.1996). t. r. schreiner (Grand Rapids, Mich. 1998); b. byrne, Sacra Pagina 6 (Collegeville, Minn. 1996). e. kÄsemann (Grand Rapids, Mich. 1980). u. wilckens, Evangelisch-Katholischer Kommentar zum Neuen Testament 6/1–3 (Einsiedeln/Neukirchen-Vluyn 1978–1982). p. stuhlmacher, Das Neue Testament Deutsch 6 (14th ed. Göttingen 1989; English, Louisville 1994).
[j. a. fitzmyer]