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Bible Commentaries

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament

Romans Overview

 

 


I. GENERAL INTRODUCTION

TO THE EPISTLES OF PAUL.

§ 1. LIFE OF PAUL. § 2. CHARACTER OF PAUL. § 3. CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER OF THE EPISTLES. § 4. CHARACTER OF THE EPISTLES,

THE great Apostle to the Gentiles is the author of the much larger half of the didactic portion of the New Testament, while his labors form the subject of the larger part of the one historical book, which tells of the spread of Christianity. He was the instrument chosen to give the religion of Christ the wider range, both of thought and of territory, for which it was designed. Hence a failure to apprehend his life and character necessarily involves ignorance of the historical beginnings of Christianity, both as a system and as a vital force in the world.

Paul, whose Hebrew name was Saul,(2) the son of Jewish parents, of the tribe of Benjamin (Philippians 3:5; 2 Corinthians 11:22), was a native of Tarsus, in Cilicia, a city of commercial and literary renown. He therefore belonged to the ‘Dispersion, ’ to the Hellenistic (or Greek speaking) Jews, whose peculiarities of religious expression were moulded by the Septuagint. That he was by birth a Roman citizen appears from Acts 16:37; Acts 22:28. His theological education was received in the school of the famous Pharisee, Gamaliel (Acts 22:3; Acts 26:4-5; comp. Acts 5:34, etc.). Whether he was learned in Greek literature has been much disputed, but that he was not ignorant of Hellenic philosophy and poetry is clear from Acts 17:25; 1 Corinthians 15:32; Titus 1:12. Yet his Epistles show that the controlling human element in his training was that of the Rabbinical school of Gamaliel.(3) This is but fitting on any theory which recognizes the place of the Jewish people in the history of Redemption. Whatever of truth that people conserved was held by the Pharisees; and among the Pharisees who appear at that epoch, Gamaliel is preeminent. Thus, a “Hebrew of the Hebrews,” yet at the same time a native Hellenist, and a Roman citizen, he combined in himself, so to speak, the three great nationalities of the ancient world, and was endowed with all the natural qualifications for a universal apostleship,(4) But while he possessed ‘natural qualifications’ only, in the absence of gracious qualifications, — he became ‘a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious’ (1 Timothy 1:13), appearing first in the New Testament narrative as a young man zealous for the death of the first Christian martyr, Stephen (Acts 7:58; Acts 8:1). He seems, after this, to have put himself at the head of the persecution (Acts 8:3; Acts 9:1-2); and, having obtained authority from the high-priest, was on his way to Damascus, to lay hold on the Christians he might find there, when the hand of Divine grace laid hold of him. That Jesus whom, in the persons of His disciples, he was persecuting, appeared to him and transformed the persecutor into a humble disciple.(5)

The importance of this occurrence is indicated by the repeated accounts in the Acts (Acts 9:1-19; Acts 22:3-16; Acts 26:9-20), as well as by the numerous allusions to it in the Pauline Epistles, especially Galatians 1:11-16. That there was a real objective appearance of Christ is proven from 1 Corinthians 15:8, and by the failure to account for the transformation on any other theory. Whatever may have been the preparation for his office, which Paul received from his previous training, his conversion was a complete transformation of his life.

The relation of Paul to the original twelve Apostles is open to discussion. There are two theories: (1.) That Paul was the twelfth Apostle, properly taking the place vacated by Judas; (2.) That there were twelve Apostles from the Jews (including Matthias), and that Paul was a distinct Apostle to the Gentiles. The latter is the more tenable view, but must not be made the basis of a continuance and succession in the Apostolic office. ‘The divine irregularity of his call, and the subsequent independence of his labors make Paul, so to speak, a prototype of evangelical Protestantism, which has always looked to him as its main authority, as Romanism to Peter.’(6)

The conversion of Paul may be regarded as his call to the Apostolic office, but he did not enter fully on his Apostolic work until seven years later (Acts 13:12). He had, indeed, three years after his conversion, received in the temple at Jerusalem, a direct revelation of his mission to the Gentiles (Acts 22:17-21), and had preached at Damascus, apparently soon after he recovered his sight (Acts 9:19-20). ‘For all half-heartedness was foreign to him; now, too, he was, whatever he was, thoroughly, and this energetic unity of his profound nature was now sanctified throughout by the living spirit of Christ’ (Meyer), However, this activity was not long continued, for he himself tells of his withdrawal to Arabia (Galatians 1:17). This was doubtless for the purpose of retirement, a sort of substitution for a three years’ intercourse with the Lord, enjoyed by the other Apostles. (See notes on Galatians 1:19.) Returning to Damascus he became the object of Jewish persecution (Acts 9:23; Acts 9:25; 2 Corinthians 11:32-33), but escaped to Jerusalem, where he encountered the doubt, if not the suspicion, of the disciples (Acts 9:26). At this time he met the Apostle Peter (Galatians 1:18-19), but seems to have gained the full confidence of the other Apostles only when his labors among the heathen bore such fruit as to place his Divine call and peculiar mission beyond all doubt. Even during his fifteen days’ stay at Jerusalem he incurred the enmity of the Hellenistic Jews, and departed to Tarsus to escape their plots. From Tarsus he came to Antioch, after an interval of a few years, having been brought there by Barnabas (Acts 11:25-26), with whom he was associated in carrying alms to the church at Jerusalem (Acts 11:29-30). Shortly afterwards (A. D. 45), he began his wider missionary activity. Luke, his companion, mentions in the Acts three great missionary journeys of the Apostle to the Gentiles.

1. He set out (A. D. 45) under the special direction of the Holy Ghost, given through the prophets and the congregation at Antioch. His companions were Barnabas and John Mark (Acts 13:15; comp. Acts 15:37). Landing at Salamis, in Cyprus, they traversed the island from east to west. At Paphos they encountered a Jewish sorcerer, whom Paul rebuked and punished, the result being the conversion of the Roman proconsul Sergius Paulus, who had been the patron of Elymas (Acts 13:6-12). They departed thence to Perga, where Mark deserted them (Acts 13:13). At Antioch, in Pisidia, the next important point to which they journeyed, the first marked success of the gospel occurred, accompanied by the bitter opposition of unbelieving Jews. A careful study of the account (Acts 13:14-52) reveals all the marked characteristics of the whole religious movement inaugurated by Paul and Barnabas. Henceforth Paul’s mission was to the Gentiles, although he never ceased to put forth efforts for his kinsmen according to the flesh. The leading incidents of the remainder of this journey were the miracle of healing a cripple at Lystra; the attempt at idolatrous worship of Paul and Barnabas by the superstitious Lystrians; the sudden change into hatred against them at the same place, instigated by Jews from Antioch and Iconium; the stoning of the missionaries; their escape from death; their successful return to Antioch.

2. At the Apostolic Council in Jerusalem (A. D. 50), the difference between Jewish and Gentile Christianity was discussed and adjusted, Paul being present as a living witness to his own success among the Gentiles (Acts 15). The second missionary journey was undertaken in the year 51, by Paul independently of Barnabas, Mark being the occasion of their separation. Having visited his old churches in Syria and Cilicia, he proceeded, with the help of a young convert, Timothy (Acts 16:1-3), to establish new ones throughout Phrygia and Galatia. A special intervention of the Holy Spirit compelled them to journey unto Troas, when, in obedience to a heavenly vision, and in answer to the Macedonian cry: ‘Come over and help us’ he crossed into Greece (Acts 16:6-12). In Greece (the Roman provinces of Macedonia and Achaia) he proceeded with great success, the seal of the divine approval of his universal mission. At Philippi, the first city where he labored in Europe, a purple dealer, named Lydia, was the earliest convert to the new religion. Here Paul came in conflict with heathen superstition, and was imprisoned with Silas, but was miraculously delivered, and honorably released. Luke seems to have been of the company, from Troas to Philippi, where he probably remained until Paul’s final journey to Jerusalem. (Compare Acts 16:10; Acts 17:1; Acts 20:5.) The next place of activity was Thessalonica, where he was persecuted by Jews, but left a flourishing church, to which he wrote his earliest Epistles. While laboring at Berea the enmity of the Jews from Thessalonica drove Paul away to Athens, where he reasons with Stoics and Epicurean philosophers, and delivered, on Mars’ hill, a remarkable discourse, without great result on the spot, although its effect is still felt everywhere. Coming to Corinth, his labors assumed a more settled character. This city was the commercial centre between the East and West, a flourishing seat of wealth and civilization. Here he spent eighteen months, and, despite great obstacles, built up a church, which exhibited all the virtues and all the follies of the Grecian character, under the influence of the gospel. The two important Epistles written to this Christian congregation show us more fully than any other documents the inner life of the early Church. In the spring of 54, he returned, by way of Ephesus, Cesarea, and Jerusalem, to Antioch.

Towards the close of the same year Paul went to Ephesus. In this renowned city, the capital of proconsular Asia, he labored sucessfully for three years, and then visited the churches in Macedonia and Achaia, remaining three months in Corinth and the vicinity. During this period were written the Epistles to the Galatians, to the Corinthians, and to the Romans. From these we see what hostile influences of Jewish origin opposed the Apostle in his labors.

The fifth and last visit to Jerusalem was made by the Apostle in the spring of 58, for the purpose of carrying to the poor brethren in Judea a contribution from the Christians of Greece (Romans 15:25-26 : compare 1 Corinthians 16:1-3). The route traversed by the Apostle was through Philippi, Troas, and Miletus (where he delivered his affectionate valedictory to the Ephesian elders), Tyre, and Cesarea. The time of his arrival at Jerusalem was shortly before Pentecost, when the city was thronged with Jews from all regions. Some of the brethren at Jerusalem suggested to him, as a matter of prudence, to appear in the Temple with certain Nazarites to prove the falsity of the charge made against him, that he taught the Hellenistic Jews to forsake the law of Moses. While in the Temple some fanatical Jews from Asia raised an uproar against him, charging him with profaning the Temple; they dragged him out of the sacred enclosure, lest he should defile it with his blood, and were about to kill him, when Claudius Lysias, the Roman tribune, hearing the uproar, appeared with his soldiers. This officer released Paul from the mob, sent him to the Sanhedrin, and, after a stormy and fruitless session of this body and the discovery of a plot against his life, sent him with a strong guard and a letter implying his innocence, to the procurator Felix in Cesarea. Here the Apostle was confined two whole years (A, D. 58-60), awaiting trial before the Sanhedrin, occasionally speaking before Felix, apparently treated with comparative mildness, visited by the Christians, and doubtless in some way not recorded, promoting the kingdom of God. (We reject the view that dates any of the Epistles at this time.) When Festus succeeded Felix, Paul, as a Roman citizen, appealed to the tribunal of the Emperor, and this opened the way to the fulfilment of his long cherished desire to preach at Rome. Having once more testified his innocence, and made a masterly defence before Festus and Agrippa (King Herod Agrippa II.), he was sent in the autumn of the year 60 to the Emperor. After a stormy voyage and a shipwreck, which detained him and his companions during the winter at Malta, he reached Rome in the spring of the following year. Here he spent at least two years in easy confinement, preaching the gospel to the soldiers who attended him; writing letters to his distant Churches in Asia Minor and Greece (Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon, Philippians), organizing and directing the labors of others, thus fulfilling his Apostolic mission even in bonds and in prison.

5. The account in the Book of Acts breaks off at this point in Paul’s career.

The usual view of the remainder of his life, supported by tradition, by hints in the Pastoral Epistles, and by the statements of the earliest church fathers, is somewhat as follows: at the end of two years’ imprisonment, Paul was released, before the persecution under Nero (A. D. 64). He probably went at once to Ephesus, where he left Timothy (1 Timothy 1:3), on proceeding to Macedonia. His next journey was to Crete, passing through Troas and Miletus. Titus was left in Crete, as is inferred from the Epistle addressed to him. A winter, during this interval of freedom, seems to have been spent at Nicopolis (Titus 3:12), before which the Apostle had written the First Epistle to Timothy, and that to Titus. A journey to Spain, and even to Britain, has been supposed to have taken place; but of this there are no historical traces. It is generally held that he was re-arrested, and, after writing the Second Epistle to Timothy during his second imprisonment, was executed at Rome; but the date assigned varies from A. D. 66 to 68. Tradition says that Peter had been brought to Rome, and that the two Apostles suffered martyrdom on the same day, adding a number of legends. But there is no certain evidence in the New Testament that Peter ever was at Rome, though it is not impossible, and is made quite probable by the universal tradition of the second century (comp. Introd. to Romans, §1). Of the fact of Paul’s martyrdom at Rome, under Nero, there can be little doubt; and also that, being a Roman citizen, he was put to death by the sword. The view which denies a second imprisonment places the death of Paul in A. D. 64, in connection with the first persecution under Nero, and shortly after the time at which the Book of Acts closes.

This question of a second imprisonment cannot, with our present insufficient data, be solved with mathematical certainty. But on the theory of but one imprisonment, it is very difficult to find a suitable place for the Pastoral Epistles, or to account for certain historical facts assumed in those writings, as well as to understand their valedictory tone and general spirit. Hence the admission of the genuineness of these writings usually leads to an acceptance of the theory of a second imprisonment. It seems impossible to deny that he was near the close of his earthly life of devotion to Christ, when he penned the triumphant words: ‘I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day: and not only to me, but also to all them that have loved his appearing’ (2 Timothy 4:7-8).

§ 2. Character of the Apostle Paul.

Of the character of the Apostle Paul, we have the fullest representation in his numerous Epistles and the Book of the Acts. Endowed with uncommon depth and acuteness of thought, with great energy and strong will, he first appears at the head of the zealots for the traditions of his fathers, a persecutor of the Nazarenes. But cursing Saul was transformed into praying Paul, the cruel persecutor into the most successful advocate of Christianity. This transformation was wrought by Jesus Himself appearing to him out of Heaven. Thus all those gifts of nature, which were used by him as a persecutor, became gifts of the Holy Ghost, and were consecrated to the service of Christ crucified. ‘The same energy, decision, and consistency, but coupled with gentleness, meekness, and wisdom; the same inflexibility of purpose, but no disposition to use violence or unholy means; the same independence and lordliness, but animated by the most self-denying love, which strives to become all things to all men; the same, nay, still greater zeal for the glory of God, but cleansed of all impure motives; the same inexorable rigor, not, however, against erring brethren, but only against sin and all impeachment of the merits of Christ; the same fire, no longer that of a passionate zealot, but of a mind at rest, considerate, and self-possessed; the same dialectic acumen of a Rabbin of Gamaliel’s school, no longer busied, however, with useless subtleties, but employed to vindicate evangelical doctrine and oppose all self-righteousness.’(1)

§ 3. Order of the Epistles of Paul

Thirteen of the books of the New Testament were certainly written by the Apostle Paul, and the anonymous Epistle to the Hebrews is also ascribed to him. (See special Introduction to the Epistle to the Hebrews.) As is well known, the Epistles of Paul have been arranged in the New Testament by another principle than that of chronological order; the larger Epistles to the churches coming first, and the Epistles to individuals coming last. The exact date of writing in the case of the several Epistles, and hence their chronological order, is open to great discussion. We place the conversion of Paul in A. D. 37. The dates of the more important events of his life would then be as follows:—

First visit to Jerusalem

40 A.D.

Second visit to Jerusalem

44 A.D.

Beginning of first missionary journey

45 A.D.

Council at Jerusalem (third visit)

50 A.D.

Second missionary journey begun

51 A.D.

Fourth visit to Jerusalem

54 A.D.

Third missionary journey begun

54 A.D.

Fifth and last visit to Jerusalem (spring)

58 A.D.

Imprisonment in Cesarea

58-60 A.D.

Voyage to Rome (autumn)

60, 61 A.D.

First imprisonment in Rome

61-63 A.D.

Release and second imprisonment

63-67 (?) A.D.

Martyrdom

64 or 67 A.D.

On the latter points, see § 1. In conformity with this table, we arrange the Epistles into three groups,—

1. Before the first imprisonment (A. D. 53-58): Thessalonians, Galatians , 1 and 2 Corinthians, Romans.

2. During the first imprisonment (A. D. 61-64): Colossians, Ephesians, Philemon, Philippians; probably Hebrews.

3. After the first imprisonment (uncertain date, but before 67): the Pastoral Epistles (2 Timothy written last).

The points most open to dispute are the position of Galatians in the first group, of Philippians in the second, and the date of the third group. (On these topics, see Introductions to the several Epistles.)

§ 4. Character of the Epistles of Paul.

As a whole, the Epistles form an inexhaustible mine of profoundest thought on the highest themes, without a parallel in the history of epistolary literature.(1) They exhibit most fully the Christian system of truth, and reveal most plainly the inner life, both of the writer and of the congregations to which they are addressed. Specially adapted to the wants of these original recipients, they are yet applicable to the Church in all ages and countries. Strictly speaking, they are all pastoral letters, containing doctrinal exposition and practical exhortation. They begin with apostolic salutation and thanksgiving; they close, usually, with personal intelligence and greeting, along with the benediction. They give the inner or spiritual history of the Apostolic age, while the Book of Acts records its outward history, each illustrating and confirming the other.(2)

Taking up the books in the order followed in our New Testament, we find first in place, size, and importance the Epistle to the Romans (Corinth, spring, A. D. 58). This was addressed to a church to which Paul was a stranger, and seems adapted to prepare the way for an intended visit. Its theme (chap. Romans 1:16-17) is, the gospel the power of God unto salvation to every believer, to the Jew first and also to the Greek, since it reveals a righteousness from God to faith. He proves the universal need of this salvation, and then unfolds the gospel itself as God’s power, first to justify and then to sanctify. To this he adds an outline of the philosophy of the history of salvation as the revelation of an eternal plan, showing alike the divine sovereignty in the calling of the nations, and human responsibility in accepting or rejecting the gospel; the whole discussion closing with a doxology in view of this mystery. The last four chapters comprise exhortations based upon the doctrines set forth, and greetings.

The Epistles to the Corinthians (Ephesus, Macedonia, A. D. 57), deal with the virtues and vices, the trials and temptations of a young congregation in the rich and polished commercial capital of Ancient Greece, whose idols were secular wisdom and sensual pleasure. Here the Apostle contrasts the foolish wisdom of the gospel with the wise folly of human philosophy; as in the Romans he represents the same gospel as a power of God, which overpowers, at last, all the power of man. Upon the whole, the Corinthians are more ethical and pastoral than dogmatic; but some of the most important doctrinal discussions are interwoven, as the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper, in chaps. 10 and 11 of the first Epistle, and the doctrine of the resurrection in chap. 15

The Second Epistle to the Corinthians proceeded from profound agitation of mind and heart, and gives us an insight into the personal character and experience of the Apostle, his trials and joys, his severity and tenderness, his noble pride and deep humility, his constant care and anxiety for the welfare of his spiritual children.

The Epistle to the Galatians (Ephesus, A. D. 54 to 57, or Corinth, A. D. 58) discusses the same theme as the Epistle to the Romans, but more tersely, and in direct opposition to the errors of Judaizing teachers. The council at Jerusalem had opposed the same error, but the old leaven of self-righteousness was still at work, and produced the same legalizing results. The false teachers hated Paul, assailed his doctrine, and questioned his apostolic authority. The Epistle is therefore a defence of his position as an Apostle (chaps. 1, 2), of his doctrine of justification by faith (chaps. 3, 4), closing with appropriate exhortations and warnings (chaps. 5, 6). It remains the bulwark of evangelical freedom, the armory of positive Protestantism.

The Epistles to the Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and to Philemon were written during the first captivity of Paul in Rome, between 61 and 63. His faith turned his prison into a temple of the Holy Ghost, from which he sent inspiration and comfort to his distant brethren in the far East. The Epistles to the Colossians and to the Ephesians closely resemble each other (somewhat as do Galatians and Romans), and exhibit Paul’s doctrine of Christ and the Church. The Epistle to the Philippians contains likewise an exceedingly important Christological passage (Philippians 2:5-10), but is more personal, and overflows with joy, thanksgiving, and brotherly love. It is his midnight hymn in the dungeon at Philippi, where he founded one of his most flourishing and affectionate congregations.

The two Epistles to the Thessalonians are the earliest, dating from 53 and 54, shortly after the organization of a church at Thessalonica, a commercial city in Macedonia. They correct certain misapprehensions respecting the second coming of Christ and the great apostasy that must precede it, and contain suitable exhortations to a sober, diligent, and watchful life.

The three Pastoral Epistles to Timothy and to Titus contain the last counsels and directions of the Apostle. They refer chiefly to church organization and administration, and the pastoral care of individual members. The Second Epistle to Timothy, written from the prison in Rome, in full view of his approaching martyrdom, is his swan-song. He expects the speedy close of his good fight of faith, and the unfading crown of righteousness awaiting him in the kingdom of glory.

The short Epistle to Philemon exhibits him as a perfect gentleman in his social and personal relations. It is important, since it bears upon the question of slavery and the Apostolic remedy.

The anonymous Epistle to the Hebrews was probably written by a pupil of the Apostle (Hebrews 2:3), under the influence of the genius of Paul, perhaps with his direct cooperation, apparently between 62 and 64, from some town in Italy (Hebrews 13:23-24), to the Christians of Hebrew descent in the East. It warns them against the danger of apostasy, and shows the immeasurable superiority of Christ over Moses, and of the Gospel dispensation over the dispensation of the Law. The latter was a significant type and prophecy of the former, the mysterious fleeting shadow of the abiding substance. Here we find the best exposition of the eternal priesthood and all-sufficient sacrifice of Christ. The doctrinal discussions are interwoven with the richest exhortations and consolations, fresh from the fountain of a genuine inspiration. Tradition and conjecture are divided with reference to the author between Paul, Luke, Barnabas, and Apollos. It is certain from internal evidence that it is full of the Holy Ghost, and speaks with divine authority. Like the mysterious Melchisedek of the seventh chapter, it bears itself with priestly and kingly dignity, and has the power of an endless life.

The Epistles may be briefly characterized as follows:—

Romans: doctrinal (soteriological).

1 and 2 Corinthians; personal and pastoral (practically polemical).

Galatians: personal and doctrinally polemic (soteriological).

Ephesians: doctrinal (Christological and ecclesiological).

Philippians: pastoral and personal.

Colossians: doctrinal (Christological, with polemical parts).

1 and 2 Thessalonians: pastoral and doctrinal (eschatological).

1 and 2 Timothy and Titus: personal and pastoral.

Philemon: personal.

The value of the Epistles of Paul as evidence of the truth of the great facts of Christianity, can scarcely be overestimated. The theories which make our four Gospels compilations of the second century, with only a small basis of historic truth, are proven assumptions by the phenomena of Paul’s writings. From those Epistles, the genuineness of which none have doubted, it can be shown that this Apostle accepted and believed the great facts which reveal the Christ of historical Christianity. If any son of Adam has ever trusted in a crucified and risen Saviour, that man was Paul. ‘Who can avoid the conclusion that such ought also to be our faith? Or shall we say that Paul was deceived? But who that observes his vigorous intellect, his acuteness of reasoning, and, above all, his sound practical judgment, can, for a moment, suppose that such a man could, for the last thirty years of his life, have been under a delusion? Or shall we impute to him, that, knowing Christianity to be a fable, he practised upon the credulity of mankind to further his own views? But what could have been his inducement? Could wealth or honor? When he became a convert he sacrificed both for penury and disgrace! Did he seek, under cover of a lie, to promote the good of mankind? But who, in his senses, would build on so rotten a foundation? For, however cunningly devised, the imposture must, sooner or later, be detected! Besides, it is impossible for any one to read Paul’s letters without feeling that he, at least, was an honest man. The only alternative is, that Paul had a rational and deep-rooted conviction of the truth of Christianity, and that what he preached to others he believed himself.’(1)

II. SPECIAL INTRODUCTION

TO THE EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS.

§ 1. THE CONGREGATION AT ROME. § 2. OCCASION AND PURPOSE OF THE EPISTLE. § 3. THEME AND CONTENTS. § 4. TIME AND PLACE OF COMPOSITION. § 5. GENUINENESS AND INTEGRITY. § 6. CHARACTERISTICS.

§ 1. The Congregation at Rome.

THE origin of the congregation of Christians at Rome is a matter of inference and conjecture. That such a congregation existed at the time Paul wrote, is of course undoubted, and taken for granted in the Book of the Acts (chap. Acts 28:15). An altogether untrustworthy tradition dates the first preaching at Rome during the life of our Lord. Some Jews from Rome may have been converted on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:10), and on their return formed the nucleus of a Jewish Christian congregation; but more than this cannot be safely affirmed. The Roman ecclesiastical tradition which claims that the Apostle Peter was the founder of the Roman Church, is without any positive historical support. It cannot be proven that Peter was in Rome before A. D. 63; even the universal testimony of tradition, that he labored there after that time and suffered martyrdom under Nero, has been repeatedly disputed by modern scholars. (Comp. Schaff, History of Apostolic Churchy, §§ 93, 94.) The statement of Eusebius, which tells of his removal there in A. D. 42, and of a twenty-five years’ subsequent residence, is contrary to Acts 15, Galatians 2:11. Furthermore, Paul would probably not have written to the Christians at Rome, if another Apostle had founded the congregation (comp. Acts 19:21; Romans 15:20; 2 Corinthians 10:16). The Book of Acts contains no traces of Peter’s labors there. ‘We may add that our Epistle—since Peter cannot have labored in Rome before it was written—is a fact destructive of the historical basis of the Papacy; in so far as the latter is made to rest on the founding of the Roman Church and the exercise of its episcopate by that Apostle. For Paul, the writing of such a didactic Epistle to a church of which he knew Peter to be the founder and bishop, would have been, according to the principle of his apostolic independence, an impossible inconsistency’ (Meyer).

It is, however, quite evident that the congregation had been founded some years before A. D. 58, when our Epistle was written. The Apostle had desired to visit the Christians there for many years (chap. Romans 15:23; comp. chap. Romans 1:13), and refers to those among them who had been converted before himself (chap. Romans 16:7). The widespread fame of the church (chap. Romans 1:8), and its different places of assembly (chap. Romans 16:5; Romans 16:14-15), confirm this view. Rome being the centre of all travel, full of foreigners from every part of the Empire, and with a large number of Jewish residents (comp. also Acts 28:17 ff.), the gospel might have been carried thither earlier than to Asia Minor or Greece. If the edict of Claudius (A. D. 51), banishing the Jews from the city (comp. Acts 18:2), was occasioned by controversies excited by the introduction of Christianity,(1) then a very early origin must be admitted. Still ‘we may suppose that the gospel was preached there in a confused and imperfect form, scarcely more than a phase of Judaism, as in the case of A polios at Corinth (Acts 18:25), or the disciples at Ephesus (Acts 19:1-3)’ Lightfoot. Even if there was no organized Christian community at the time of the edict of Claudius, the banishment of the Jews, followed by their speedy return, is closely connected with the growth of the Roman congregation, as it existed when Paul wrote. ‘Fugitives from neighboring Greece became Christians and disciples of Paul; and after their return to Rome were heralds of Christianity, and took part in organizing a congregation. This is historically proved by the example of Aquila and Priscilla, who, when Jews, emigrated to Corinth, lived there over a year and a half, in the company of Paul, and subsequently appeared as teachers in Rome and occupants of a house where the Roman congregation assembled (Romans 16:3). Probably other individuals mentioned in chap. 16 were led by God in a similar way; but it is certain that Aquila and Priscilla occupied a most important position among the founders of the congregation; for among the many teachers whom Paul salutes in chap. 16, he presents his first greeting to them, and this, too, with such flattering commendation as he bestows upon none of the rest’ (Meyer). This would hold equally good if, as is not unlikely, Aquila and his wife had become believers before the banishment from Rome. If Gentiles had been converted in that city, the edict would not have affected them; while the returning Jews who had felt Paul’s influence would be all the more ready to fraternize closely with them rather than with their unbelieving countrymen. This natural result accounts for the tone used by the leading Jews in their interview with Paul at Rome (Acts 28:21-22).

This introduces the much discussed question, whether the Roman Christians were mainly of Jewish or Gentile extraction. (See § 2, on the relation of this question to the purpose of the Epistle.) We have already indicated the presence of a numerous Jewish element, and the Epistle itself points to the same fact (see on chaps. Romans 4:1; Romans 4:12; Romans 7:1-6; Romans 14:1 ff.; Romans 15:8). The traces of Judaizing influences are, however, very slight, although the letters written during Paul’s imprisonment show that these adverse tendencies were present at the later period. Christianity at Rome was therefore Pauline in its type when Paul wrote this Epistle. The theory of Dr. Baur, that the Church was not only Jewish but Judaistic and anti-Pauline, is altogether unwarranted (comp. Schaff, Apostol. Church, p. 297, and Romans, pp. 34, 35.). It seems most probable that the great majority of the congregation was composed of believers of Gentile origin. Rome was the centre of the Gentile world, and maintained constant intercourse with those places where Paul’s success among the Gentiles had been most marked (e. g., Antioch, Ephesus, Corinth). The Epistle itself gives indications of this preponderance; see on chaps. Romans 1:5-7; Romans 1:13; Romans 11:13; Romans 11:25; Romans 11:28; Romans 14:1; Romans 15:15-16; in the last passage he grounds his right to instruct and strengthen the Roman Christians upon his call to be the Apostle to the Gentiles. The fact that the Epistle was written in Greek sheds little light upon the question before us, since the Jews who visited Rome would all speak that language.(1) But it seems probable that the Gentile Christians were mainly from the Greek population of Rome, which, pure and mixed, formed a large and important fraction of the whole. The names in chap. 16 are mainly Greek,(2) only a few are Latin. From this list of names Bishop Lightfoot makes the following inference as to the rank and station of the believers: ‘Among the less wealthy merchants and tradesmen, among the petty officers of the army, among the slaves and freedmen of the imperial palace—whether Jews or Greeks—the gospel would first find a firm footing. To this last class allusion is made in Philippians 4:22 : “they that are of Caesar’s household.” From these it would gradually work upwards and downwards; but we may be sure that in respect of rank the Church of Rome was no exception to the general rule, that “not many wise, not many mighty, not many noble” were called (1 Corinthians 1:20).’

The subsequent history of the Roman Church does not fall within the limits of this Introduction, but this sketch of its beginnings may well be closed by these words of Dr. Lange: ‘As the light and darkness of Judaism was centralized in Jerusalem, the theocratic city of God (the holy city, the murderer of the prophets), so was heathen Rome the humanitarian metropolis of the world, the centre of all the elements of light and darkness prevalent in the heathen world; and so did Christian Rome become the centre of all the elements of vital light, and of all the antichristian darkness in the Christian Church. Hence Rome, like Jerusalem, not only possesses a unique historical significance, but is a universal form operative through all ages’ See Lange, Romans, pp. 29, 30.

§ 2. Occasion and Purpose of the Epistle.

The occasion was the non-fulfilment of the Apostle’s desire to preach at Rome (chap. Romans 1:9-15). He takes the opportunity, afforded by the departure of Phoebe from Corinth (comp. § 4), to write to the Roman congregation; both to give in writing what he would have announced to them orally, and to pave the way for those personal labors he hoped to put forth among them in the future (chap. Romans 15:22-32), There has been much discussion as to the purpose, involving a variety of opinions as to the occasion. Some writers insist that the Apostle purposed to make a formal doctrinal treatise on soteriology (or justification by faith); that he prepared it for Rome, because of the importance of the city. This view, while partially true, lessens the personal and historical character of the Epistle.(3) On the other hand, many commentators and critics, especially in Germany, have attributed to the Apostle a motive, too exclusively polemical, seeking the occasion for the Epistle in the state of things among the Christians at Rome, assuming peculiar conflicts between the Jewish and Gentile elements, of which the Epistle itself, rightly interpreted, and the Acts of the Apostles, show no trace.(2) Such antagonisms may have appeared, and the Apostle may have known of them; but that they occasioned the Epistle, or largely modified its plan, seems very unlikely.

On the occasion above noted, the Apostle wrote to this cosmopolitan congregation of believers. In Rome, if anywhere, those evangelical principles which were of universal application would need the greatest emphasis. And the antithesis between law and gospel, as it then existed, far from being solely between Jewish and Gentile Christians, was the expression of a world-historical contrast and contest (of which the city of Rome itself still remains a witness). As the Apostle had not founded the church, he felt himself less influenced by special purposes than in writing to the Christians of Asia Minor and Greece; hence he not only omits all the polemical references which abound in the similar Epistle to the Galatians, but gives a much fuller doctrinal statement. His theme (chap. Romans 1:16-17) is wide enough to touch every possible case among the recipients (including the dark problem of Jewish unbelief), and this leads him to an ethical conclusion (chap. Romans 12:1), that has application to any special cases he may have in mind. The various views respecting the analysis of the Epistle are, of course, affected by the theories held regarding the purpose.

§ 3. Theme and Contents.

As already indicated (Gen. Introd., § 4, p. 7), the theme of the Epistle is to be found in chap. Romans 1:16-17 : The gospel ‘is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.’ The reason it is such a power is that ‘therein is the righteousness of God (coming from Him) revealed from faith to faith,’ in accordance with the Old Testament declaration, ‘The just shall live by faith.’ Strictly speaking, the main theme is not justification by faith,(3) as is usually held by those who think that the Apostle had a purely didactic purpose in writing the Epistle, but salvation by God’s power through faith, not through the law. This salvation is wrought by means of a righteousness which comes from God to the believer; the first and essential step is God’s giving (imputing) this righteousness to believing sinners, so that they are accounted righteous by Him; but He makes them righteous by the same plan and power. The two are inseparable, and both are treated of in this Epistle as constituting God’s power unto salvation. After the full discussion of this doctrinal theme (chaps. 1-11), the Apostle passes to exhortations and ethical applications (chaps. 12-16), which are but expansions of the leading practical inference (chap. Romans 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.’

CONTENTS.

Greeting and Introduction, chap. Romans 1:1-15. Theme (salvation free and universal), chap. Romans 1:16-17.

I. Doctrinal part: The gospel, for every one that believeth, is the power of God unto salvation: to the Jew first and also to the Greek; chaps. Romans Romans 1:18 to Romans 11:36.

II. Practical part: Therefore offer your bodies to God, a living sacrifice of thanksgiving for this salvation; chaps. 12-16

I. Doctrinal part; chaps. Romans 1:18 to Romans 11:36.(1)

1. Every one needs this power of God unto salvation, for all are sinners; Romans 1:17 to Romans 3:20; Gentiles (chap. Romans 1:17-32), and Jews (chaps. 2, Romans 3:20).

2. This power of God is to every one that believeth; chaps. Romans 3:21 to Romans 4:25. The plan is one of faith (chap. Romans 3:21-26). God is the God of the Gentiles as well as of the Jews (chap. Romans 3:27-31), and Abraham was justified by faith, being the father of believers, uncircumcised as well as circumcised (chap. Romans 4:1-25).

3. Thus God actually saves men (chaps. 5-8).

(a.) Reconciliation the result of justification (chap. Romans 5:1-11).

(b.) Righteousness and life, through and in Christ, overbear the parallel, yet contrasted, case of sin and death through Adam (chap. Romans 5:12-21).

(c.) This method of free salvation does not lead to sin, but to holiness (chaps. 6-8).

1 Grace does not lead to sin (chap. 6);

2 the law is in itself just and good, but powerless to sanctify (chap. 7);

3 the work of the Spirit over against the failure of the law (chap. 8); nothing can separate from the love of Christ!

4. The universality of this salvation: This gospel is to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile: it has apparently failed to save the Jew, but only apparently (chaps. 9-11).

(a.) God’s sovereignty: God’s promise is not void (chap. Romans Romans 9:1-29).

(b.) Man’s responsibility; The Jews are excluded by their own unbelief (chaps. Romans 9:30 to Romans 10:21).

(c.) The prospective solution; God has not cast off His people, but overruled their unbelief for the salvation of the Gentiles, after which Israel shall be saved (chap. Romans 11:1-32).

(d.) Doxology in view of this mystery (chap. Romans 11:33-36).

II. Practical part (chaps. 12-16): Man’s gratitude for the free salvation.

1. General exhortations (chaps. Romans 12:1-21; Romans 13:8-14).

2. Special discussions:

(a.) In regard to obedience to rulers (chap. Romans 13:1-7).

(b.) In regard to scruples about eating meat and drinking wine, etc. (chap. Romans 14:1 to Romans 15:13).

3. Conclusion (chaps. Romans Romans 15:14 to Romans 16:27).

(a.) Personal explanations, as at the beginning (chap. Romans 15:14-33).

(b.) Messages and greetings to various persons (chap. Romans 16:1-16).

(c.) Closing wishes, with greetings from various persons (chap. Romans 16:17-24).

(d.) Concluding Doxology (chap. Romans 16:25-27).

Fundamental part: Romans 1:18 to Romans 5:21.

The righteousness of faith without legal works.

First complimentary part: 6-8

Sanctification without the law.

Second complementary part: 9-11

The rejection of Israel.

§ 4. Time and Place of Composition.

There is no reason to doubt the generally received opinion that this Epistle was written from Corinth, during the three months’ stay in Achaia (Greece), mentioned in Acts 20:3. For, according to chap. Romans 15:25, etc., at the time of writing the Apostle was about to go to Jerusalem with the offerings for the poor, made by the churches of Macedonia and Achaia. At Corinth he had directed such collections to be made; it was the largest city of Achaia; Phoebe, who took the letter, was from Cenchreae, the sea-port of Corinth (chap. Romans 16:1-2); Gaius (chap. Romans 16:23), his host, was probably a Corinthian (1 Corinthians 1:14). Meyer suggests that the letter was written before the plot of the Jews (Acts 20:3), which changed the route of the Apostle. According to our view of the chronology, the date would be early in A. D. 58, since the departure for Jerusalem was made in due season to reach that city before Pentecost (Acts 20:16).

§ 5. Genuineness and Integrity of the Epistle.

This Epistle was written by the Apostle Paul. The testimony of the ancient church is unanimous; the internal evidence is equally strong, and few of the most destructive critics have ventured to assail its genuineness. From the very first it was quoted by Christian writers, and even Marcion acknowledged it.

But its integrity has been opposed frequently, and in various ways, the chief doubt being respecting chaps. 15, 16. They were rejected by Marcion on doctrinal grounds, and in modern times by Baur. Others admit that Paul wrote them, but not as a part of the Epistle to the Romans. The main grounds for this position are, the insertion of the concluding doxology (in some MSS.) at the close of chap. 14, and the long list of acquaintances at Rome, where Paul had not yet been, none of them named in the Epistles from Rome. Neither of these reasons are of great weight, while the theories that seek to account for the appending of the final chapters are unsustained by any historical facts.(1) (See on chaps. 15, and Romans 16:25-27.)

It may be added that the Greek text of this Epistle is remarkably free from important variations; even the very difficult critical question in chap. Romans 5:1, involves no point of doctrine. The most weighty passages have been preserved with wonderful accuracy.

§ 6. Characteristics of the Epistle.

The Epistle is the bulwark of the doctrines of sin and grace, the Magna Charta of the evangelical system against all Judaizing and Romanizing perversions. Luther calls it ‘the chief part of the New Testament, and the perfect gospel;’ Coleridge: ‘the most profound work in existence;’ Meyer: ‘the grandest, boldest, most complete composition of Paul.’ Godet terms it ‘the cathedral of the Christian faith.’ Owing to the character of the subject treated, it is full of difficulties; almost every chapter is a theological battle-field; but the leading truths are clear enough to those whose hearts are not crusted over by the legalism the Apostle so vigorously assails. This Epistle and that to the Galatians discuss the same fundamental doctrine, namely, justification by free grace through faith in Jesus Christ, with whom the believer enters into personal life-union. They differ, however: the latter is a personal defence, directly opposing the false teachers of legalism who were perverting a church founded by the Apostle himself; the former, written to strangers, opposes the corrupt (and legalistic) tendencies of the human heart, by a fuller statement of God’s power unto salvation. They supplement each other, and together furnish the immovable Scriptural basis for evangelical freedom in Christ, the best defence against the perversions of doctrine which have been sustained by the most rigid ecclesiasticism. Nor should it escape notice that these Epistles were addressed, in the one instance to Rome, and in the other to people of Keltic race (comp. Introduction to Galatians), the city and race at present most completely under the bondage of organized legalism. Moreover, as Godet admirably sets forth, the Epistle sheds light upon many other topics which are of permanent interest to thoughtful men in every age.

As regards style, the Epistle to the Romans is characterized by ‘strength, fulness, and warmth’ (Tholuck), the latter qualities overbearing at times the perspicuity which we would expect from so powerful a writer, and which appears in the concluding chapters. Dean Alford notes the following peculiarities: (a.) insulating the one matter under discussion up to a certain point; (b.) then introducing the objections; (c.) weaving these parenthetic objections into the main discussion; (d.) frequent and complicated antitheses; (e.) frequent plays upon words, which cannot always be reproduced in English; (f.) accumulation of prepositions; (g.) frequency and peculiarity of parenthetical passages. He also rightly calls attention to the emphatic position of words, and to the distinction of tenses. These are lost sight of in the common version. See the textual emendations and exegetical notes throughout.

In the full vigor of his manhood, at the height of his Christian activity, this great Apostle wrote to the greatest city of the world this Epistle, which presents the truth he preached in the most symmetrical form. ‘Although the Epistle to the Romans belongs, in the chronological order, in the middle of the Pauline Epistles, yet its primacy has been recognized in manifest opposition to the alleged primacy of the Roman bishop. The Epistle to the Romans, in its Pauline type, opposes, by its doctrine of justification by faith without the works of the law, the system of Rome; so that even today it can be regarded as an Epistle especially directed “to the Romans.”’—LANGE.

 


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Bibliography Information
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on Romans:4 Overview". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/scn/romans-0.html. 1879-90.

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