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Bible Commentaries

Abbott's Illustrated New Testament

Romans Overview

 

 


INTRODUCTION

AT the time of the first establishment of the Christian religion, the Roman power was at its meridian. Nearly the whole of the then known world was under its sway, almost all countries having been reduced to the condition of provinces, or else to that of subject kingdoms, governed in subordination to the Roman emperor, or to the Roman senate. Hence the imperial city was at that time the great centre of intercommunication, of wealth, of influence, and of all civil and military power.

The apostle Paul commenced his career in a province remote from this central seat of power. His various travels, however, brought him gradually nearer and nearer to it, as the tendency of his progress was always, through the native boldness and energy of his character, from places more quiet and obscure to those more noted, populous, and powerful,--from Antioch to Ephesus,--from Ephesus to Macedon, Athens, and Corinth; and the farther he advanced, the more evident it became that he would not be satisfied with the extent of his missionary labors, until he should have reached the imperial metropolis itself, and proclaimed his message of salvation among the palaces of the Cesars.

A distinct expression of his design to visit Rome is recorded in Acts 19:21. He was at that time going into Greece, but in such circumstances as prevented his then extending his journey into Rome, as he was at that time under the necessity of returning to Judea to execute a certain commission which he had undertaken from the Christians in Macedonia and Achaia to those in Jerusalem. After accomplishing this object, he intended to carry into effect his design of visiting Rome; and, in the mean time, he wrote this Epistle to the Roman church, informing them of his long-cherished intention of visiting them, (Romans 1:10-13,15:23-28,) and communicating such instructions as were adapted to their condition. The Epistle is supposed to have been written during Paul's residence at Corinth, on the occasion referred to in Acts 20:2,3.

We learn from secular history, that, as might have been expected, there was a considerable Jewish population at Rome in the times of the apostles. Some of these Roman Jews seem to be mentioned as present at Jerusalem at the day of Pentecost. (Acts 2:10.) It was probably through these individuals, or by some other channel which the frequent intercourse maintained between the metropolis and the provinces provided, that Christianity had found its way to Rome, and a church had been planted there. This church consisted of both Jewish and Gentile converts. Between these two classes of Christian converts there was always a tendency to jealousy and dissension. The Jew had been accustomed to regard his nation as the favored people of God, and to attach great importance to the various rites and ceremonies which had descended to him from his fathers. He was, consequently, much inclined to insist, that the Gentile convert should not only become a Christian, but a Jew also; that is, that he should come under the various obligations of the Mosaic law, as well as seek salvation through Jesus Christ. The Gentile, on the other hand, looked with contempt upon what he considered the narrowness of mind, bigotry, and slavery to ceremony and form, which often characterized his Israelitish brother; and he seems often to have been inclined to adopt practices for the purpose of showing his superiority to such ideas, which could not fail of wounding the feelings of the Jew.

The Epistle to the Romans will be found to be exactly adapted to this state of things. In fact, it may be said to consist, essentially, of a treatise upon the nature of salvation by Christ, in its relation to the Gentile and the Jew; showing that it is equally indispensable to the one and to the other, and presenting the subject in such aspects as should lead the Jew to entertain more just and liberal feelings towards his Gentile brother, and the Gentile to be more considerate and kind in respect to the prepossessions and long-established habits of the Jew.

The Epistle to the Romans has the reputation of being the most difficult book in the New Testament; but, after all, the difficulty seems to be, in many cases, a difficulty in receiving the doctrine of the apostle, rather than in understanding it. In enforcing the entire dependence of both Jew and Gentile upon the mere mercy of God for all hope of salvation, the writer has occasion to take very high ground in regard to the prerogatives exercised by Jehovah in the control of the moral world; and Christian philosophers, of all ages, in marking the confines of divine power, in respect to the character and acts of free and accountable creatures, have been disposed to draw the lines differently from the apostle. In fact, he draws no lines at all. He surrenders the reins entirely into the hands of Jehovah, and invests him with a sovereignty that is complete and illimitable, tracing back all things to an origin in him; while the philosophers, on the other hand, deem it necessary that some acts should be allowed to originate in man. They cannot conceive of freedom and accountableness, without something like independence and contingency. The difficulty would seem to be, therefore, so far as this subject is concerned, not so much in understanding what the apostle would say, as in reconciling it with what men are apt to regard as incontrovertible principles of moral philosophy.

The Epistles of Paul are placed together in the sacred canon, immediately after the historical books, and they are arranged, not according to the dates under which they were written, but according to their comparative length; those addressed to churches in one series, and the Epistles to individuals, namely, to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon, in another. The Epistle to the Hebrews, which, though generally attributed to Paul, does not, in the introduction or conclusion of it, bear his name, is not included in the series, but is inserted by itself, at the close of it. Then follow the Epistles of James, Peter, John, and Jude, arranged on the same principle with those of Paul.

 


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Bibliography Information
Abbott, John S. C. & Abbott, Jacob. "Commentary on Romans:4 Overview". "Abbott's Illustrated New Testament". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/ain/romans-0.html. 1878.

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