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Introduction to Romans
Romans Lesson #001
November 11, 2010
Romans is thought to be the finest of all of Paul’s epistles and it is in this epistle that Paul sets forth the most logical, the most orderly and organized presentation of the foundation of doctrine for Christianity, especially in relation to the essence of God in terms of His righteousness and justice, very close concepts in the vocabulary of the Bible. Both in terms of the Old Testament and New Testament the word groups that are translated as either “righteousness” or “justice” are the same. In the Old Testament the verb root tsedaq and in the New Testament the noun root is DIKE, and so there are various forms of one of those words but they can refer to either the absolute standard that is inherent within God’s character—He is the ultimate standard for reality—or it refers to the application of that standard. When it talks about the standard it talks about righteousness; when it talks about the application of that standard the idea is justice. So we know that there is perfect righteousness because it exists in God’s essence and the application of that is perfect justice. Even though we do not see righteousness or justice within our human experience, within the realm of creation we do have that have that in the essence of God as an ultimate reference point. And so we can know what righteousness is and what justice is; and because all human beings are created within the image and likeness of God, even though that image has been distorted and corrupted by the sin of Adam, nevertheless there is something deep within the core of man that recognizes that things are not as they ought to be, and they have a sense that things ought to be somehow different, that there ought to be perfection, something where there is not suffering but rather an experience where there is no sorrow, no inequities, no injustice.
Yet, because we live in a fallen world we can’t experience that, and we will never experience that; and the failure to recognize that on the part of many people is what leads them into the trap of utopianism. We see a lot of examples of that today in various philosophical views that dominate politics both in terms of other nations as well as various movements within the United States. The goal of government, the goal of human institutions is not to provide protection; it is rather to defend righteousness and to provide an environment where righteousness can flourish to the best of its ability within a fallen system. It is that every question of whether or not there is such a thing as the fallen-ness of man, the depravity of man, this inherent flaw in human nature, that is at the very core of the challenges and the disagreements between the various worldviews. Those who believe that man is essentially flawed are basically Christians. Others think of sin as some sort of cosmetic problem, something in the order of disease, but not a constitutional defect; and that is the distinction between biblical Christianity and all of the other world religions. This is why biblical Christianity emphasizes the grace of God, understanding the sin problem as a constitutional defect that man cannot overcome on his own; there has to be an external solution that is totally independent of human ability.
If we have a weak view of sin—and there are certain Christian denominations and theologians who have very diluted ideas about sin—then the more diluted that view of sin, the more we think of man as perfectible, and if man as an individual is perfectible, then society is perfectible. And when we think of society as perfectible we think that somehow it is up to mankind or the institutions of mankind to perfect the human race and to bring in some kind of utopia. What is important for us to notice at this point by way of introduction is the importance of understanding righteousness and justice, which is the very core of the message in Romans.
Authorship: The apostle Paul claims to be the author in Romans 1:1, and even though there are those who in other books that claim to be written by Paul doubt Pauline authorship there are very few left in the world today who doubt Pauline authorship of Romans. The topic of authorship is usually broken down into two categories of evidence: internal evidence, which refers to evidence within the epistle or book itself; external evidence has to do with outside sources, outside references.
Internal evidence: Always start with Scripture; always start with God in any system of thought. Start with ultimate reality and work your way out. Whenever we start with Scripture we start with the Scripture’s testimony regarding itself. This is not a circular argument. It is the case of a witness. You go to the witness and ask the right probing questions of a witness, and their answers are either going to be consistent and give corroboration of their basic testimony or there are going to be some flaws or inconsistencies that may cause you to then look at other areas to validate or invalidate the claim. So we are going to take the Scripture at its word: that it claims to be the Word of God written by God through men, using their personalities, vocabularies, gifts, talents and background in order to express the eternal truths that God wishes to communicate to man in a way that doesn’t violate their individual human nature or personality on the one hand, but on the other hand it communicates exactly what God intended to communicate. And it does it in a way that that inspiration extends down to the very words of Scripture: not just the words themselves but the forms of Scripture, whether a word is an aorist tense, a present tense, a future tense, whether one word is used or another word is used; this is a part of divine inspiration. Sometimes it may be that one word is used over against another word simply because of the author’s personality or his style, but that should be the last resort. Our first resort should be that this is the word that God chose because He wanted to emphasize something distinct about this word as opposed to this other word.
So we always start with the assumption that if the Bible claims to be written by someone then we are going to assume that is true until we find some evidence that may perhaps contradict that, and we are going to assume that when it claims to be from God that it is indeed from God.
The vocabulary that we have in Romans and the way that the theological arguments are developed are consistent with what Paul says in other epistles, such as Ephesians, Colossians, Galatians, books that are similar in doctrinal content to Romans, especially Galatians where we see the thinking that is in Romans developed in a much shorter book. In Galatians, especially in chapter two, we see his explanation of justification by faith: that it is not by works. Galatians 2:16 NASB “nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified.” It is also consistent with what he says in Philippians chapter three, and so this idea of justification which is part of our understanding of the righteousness of God is consistent in Romans, Philippians, Galatians, Colossians and all of these other epistles. The language, the style, the way that he logically develops his subject, is all consistent with what we know of as the apostle Paul.
The author states that he is familiar with Priscilla and Aquila. Paul was familiar with them, Romans 16:3 cf. Acts 18:2, 3. The author mentions in Romans 15:25, 27 that he is in the process of taking up a collection of money to take back to Jerusalem for the support of the poor among the believers. We know that this was something that the apostle Paul was involved in on his third missionary journey. Cf. Acts 19:21; 20:1-5; 21:15, 17-19; 1 Corinthians 16:1-5; 2 Corinthians 8:1-12; 9:1-5. This fits what we know of what the apostle Paul was doing on his third missionary journey. We believe he wrote the epistle to the Romans from Corinth. This would indicate that this fits with that scenario and plan.
The author claims to be a descendant of the tribe of Benjamin, as was the apostle Paul, originally known as Saul of Tarsus. He makes this claim in Romans 11:1 cf. Philippians 3:5.
The author plans to visit Rome, as did the apostle Paul. Cf. Acts 1:10-13; 15:32 with 19:21. We see that the things that are stated in Romans that are personal to the author of this epistle, are consistent with what we know about the life and ministry of the apostle Paul and the chronology that we see in the book of Acts.
In terms of external evidence the apostolic fathers [In many cases they knew the apostles or came to salvation under the ministry of one of the apostles, yet are a second generation leader in the early church] there is a huge distinction between their ministries and the apostles. The apostolic fathers are often confused. They are talking about being saved when you get baptized and all kinds of other things. It took two or three generations to work out the doctrinal corrections that were necessary after the apostles go off the scene. That just reveals the difference between the active presence and ministry of God the Holy Spirit in the lives of the apostles and that that disappears with the death of the last apostle.
Under external evidence we know that the early apostolic fathers in the first generation after the death of John—Clement of Rome, Ignatius and Polycarp who was a student of the apostle John. Then the later second century, so this would getting into the third and fourth generation of leaders after the death of the last apostle—Iranaeus who was the bishop of Leon in France, wrote 15-170 era, Justin Martyr about that same era, and Hippolytus. All of these attested to the belief that the apostle Paul wrote the epistle to the Romans. Furthermore, we have one of the oldest canonical collections called the Muratorian Fragment which was discovered a couple of centuries ago and has been dated to approximately 170 AD, within eighty years of the writing of Revelation, and it indicates that the apostle Paul wrote Romans. There is no indication from that early time that anybody believed anything different. It wasn’t until the 19th century and what was referred to as the 19th century Protestant liberalism that anybody started to question whether or not the apostle Paul wrote the book of Romans.
A question comes to people’s minds, reading Romans 16:22, in the statement: NASB “I, Tertius, who write this letter, greet you in the Lord.” This is Paul’s amanuensis (word for a scribe or secretary). It was typical in the ancient world that someone would write a letter and dictate it to a scribe. So Tertius is the one who wrote this down. Some ask how this affects the doctrine of inspiration. The inspiration is coming through the apostle Paul and he is the one who at the end signs off on it. He would dictate it to Tertius then go over it making any corrections and then the final copy would be completed by Tertius before it was sent out. In many case multiple copies like this would be made because in some cases it would be sent not just to one church or individual but to multiple churches.
Despite the attempts of some in the 19th century to debunk Pauline authorship by the beginning of the 20th century most of those arguments were seen as very specious and not demonstrable, and so today there is virtually no question about Pauline authorship.
Date: This was in AD 56-57, probably early winter—January-February—of 57. It was during Paul’s third missionary journey. At the time he wrote three epistles, I & II Corinthians and Romans. He knows he is headed to Rome and states this in the very first chapter. But first of all he believed he had to go to Jerusalem. Romans was written at the time that Nero was emperor, and that is important to understand in terms of interpretation, especially when we get into the 13th chapter which talks about the fact that no authority exists apart from the will of God, and that God as He superintends history there are times when even evil rulers from our perspective are appointed and God allows them to reign. Nevertheless because they are the ruler they are to be obeyed. Authority is to be respected as a foundational establishment principle.
Paul didn't found the church in Rome; neither did Peter found it. We don’t know who founded the church there. We know from Acts chapter two that there were Jews from Rome in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. So it is possible that some Jews were saved from Rome and when they went back to Rome they proclaimed the gospel in Rome and a church began. It is also possible that when Paul traveled on his first and second missionary journeys, and as there were Jews in those cities and towns where he went, some of them could have been traveling from Rome or later traveled to Rome and could have been the source of the gospel first arriving in Rome. But it was not Peter, as the Roman Catholic Church has asserted. Peter was neither the founder nor the first pastor of the church in Rome. Paul got to Rome before Peter did.
We are not really sure why Paul wrote this epistle. We can guess because of the nature of what he says, but there were questions that were being asked related to understanding foundational doctrine, there were questions being asked about the relationship of works, the faith. There were questions related to the necessity of works to salvation, questions related to God’s plan for the Jews. It is obvious from things that are written in the epistle that the congregation in Rome was mixed, containing both Gentiles and Jews. At the end of chapter eight, verses 38, 39 NASB “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Then Paul hears the Jew. Wait a minute! God promised us the land, God promised us this, God promised us that, why don’t we have it? If God is so faithful how can you be convinced that nothing can separate you from the love of God? We’ve been separated from the love of God, what is going on? And so Romans 9-11 are the logical development of his theme of righteousness: righteousness toward the Gentiles, righteousness toward all mankind, developed in the first eight chapters and then chapters 9-11 showing that God’s righteousness is vindicated in His dealings with Israel. Eventually all Israel will be saved and Paul begins in Romans 9 saying that all of the covenants and promises belong to the Jews and are never taken from the Jews, and that eventually all Israel will be saved, chapter eleven. Then everything shifts in chapter twelve dealing with the application of God’s righteousness into the life of the individual believer.
Historical background: Rome was founded in 753 BC. There are various legends. There is not a lot of hard data about how Rome was founded. There were the Etruscans that were in the area and some other groups that settled on the hills and tradition has it that Aeneas fled there after Troy was destroyed. His descendants were Romulus and Remus who had a falling out and Romulus killed Remus. Romulus became the first king of Rome, April 21st, 753 BC. The three basic periods of Rome are the pre-Republic period or monarchy period (753-510 BC), then the period of the Republic, and then the period of the Empire. With the death of the king in 510 those in the aristocracy who made up the senate of Rome swore that there would never be another king and that Rome would be ruled by the senate—the founding of the phrase Romanus Populusque Romanus, the Senate and the People of Rome, that became the standard abbreviation for the Roman Republic [SPQR]. It was during this time that Rome began to expand outside of the seven hills. Beyond its basic walls it conquered the neighboring Etruscans and Greek colonists on the Italian peninsula. It expanded into North Africa, westward into Spain, northward into Gaul and eventually into Britain and eastward into the Middle East. As Rome expanded its wealth and prosperity expanded and, of course, no nation has ever passed the prosperity test and so they had all of the problems that came with prosperity—increase in vice and arrogance and self-centeredness, and all of the things that went along with that. On the other hand they had tremendous and wonderful accomplishments and they provided a tremendous legacy of culture in terms of law. Roman law provides the foundation for western civilization down through the present. What made Roman law great was when Christianity came into the empire and modified some of the cruelty and other aspects that were present in Roman law; it was really Christianity that allowed the good side of Roman civilization to continue. Historically no pagan culture has ever really had an enduring or lasting value, but what happens when Christianity comes into western civilization in conjunction with the thinking of the Greeks and the Romans it allows what is beneficial in those civilizations to endure. All of western civilization’s cultural institutions basically are grounded on a combination of Roman law and Old Testament law. That is what makes the difference.
The period of the Republic was from 510 BC to 27 BC and it was during this time that there was all of this expansion, remarkable contributions to culture not only in the realm of law but in architecture, art, engineering and road building. It is the unification of all of the territory from North Africa to the Middle East to Western Europe under the authority of the Roman emperor that created a peace which meant that the gospel could spread without worrying about crossing national boundaries and facing opposition from one area or another. This was just part of the wisdom of God and the sovereignty of God, and as the Scripture says, Jesus came in the fullness of time. God provided this perfect historical scenario for the timing of the gospel.
The Republic ended with a series of civil wars and attempts to seize power by various generals. The lesson there is, human politics will always fail. It will never provide protection no matter how great people are or how wonderful the system is because of the depravity of man. There has to be a strong leader and this is what comes in with the granting of the title Augustus to Octavian. When the senate crowned him as Caesar he became the emperor in 27 BC, and that is the beginning of the empire which continued in the west until AD 476 and in the east until AD 1453. What destroyed the Roman empire finally was the invasion of those “peaceful, loving” people of the book, those “peaceful” Muslims. We are still fighting them and have been fighting them ever since. Ever since 622 there has been this violent expansion of Islam and it hasn’t stopped. It has paused a couple of times, but from Charles Martel to Constantinople battles were fought against the attempts by the Islamic hordes to take over and capture the west. Rome stood as a bulwark against that until it eventually just collapsed from the weight of its own depravity in 1453.
Back to the first century. With the consolidation of power by Octavian there was now the empire. There are four emperors mentioned in the New Testament: Augustus, Luke 2:1; Tiberius, Luke 3:1; Claudius, Acts 11:28; 18:2; Nero, Acts 25:10-12; 27:24. By the mid first century, the time of the apostle Paul, Rome is the largest city in the world with a population exceeding one million. The church in Rome was composed of slave and free. There were quite a large number of Christians. Tacitus tells us that the number of Christians persecuted under Nero was “an immense multitude.” So there was a large number of Christians in Rome at that time in the first century AD and it was to those believers that Paul writes.
The occasion: There are four clues that Paul gives within the writing of Romans, aside from answering their questions.
- The only time that fits Paul’s description in chapter fifteen is his winter stay in Corinth at the end of his third missionary journey.
- At the conclusion of Romans he is aware that he is reaching a transition point in his apostolic ministry.
- He expressed a concern about his impending trip to Jerusalem and taking up a collection for the believers there.
- Paul is seeking the support of the Roman Christians as he makes his way eventually to Spain. That was his plan.
Key doctrines and terms in the epistle to the Romans: Key words are, justice, righteousness, faith, law, grace, wrath, works.