The Most Important Letter Ever Sent
The title of this study is no exaggeration. Of all the items of correspondance there is none that can equal the epistles inspired by God. While all Scripture is inspired and therefore necessary the letter to the Romans has the most prominent place among the New Testament epistles. We know for example that it was not Paul’s first item of inspired correspondance. The reason why it was placed immediately after the Book of Acts was because this epistle expounds the fullness of the Gospel in a manner that no other book in the Scripture does. The Roman Christians would in the future die violent deaths because they not only knew who they believed in but what they believed. No doubt Paul’s epistle made a huge contribution towards building these people up in their faith so that they were able to face The Martyrs’ Crown without flinching.
There are other secondary reasons why I have given this study such a title. James Mountogomery Boice expressed this opinion, “Romans has probably been the object of more intense study by more highly motivated individuals than any other document in human history.” Whereever Christianity has visited believers have made it their business to grasp this epistle. Of all the New Testamant letters more commentaries have been written on Romans than any other; this is evidenced in my own library.
Also, the Epistle to the Romans has had a more profound influence upon the history of the Church than any other book within the Holy Scriptures. Augustine of Hippo was probably the greatest Church leader between the New Testament period and the Reformation. Before his conversion he lived an immoral lifestyle in Italy. While sitting in a garden he heard a child singing “tole lege, tole lege” (take and read) which inspired him to lift a copy of the Bible. Opening at random he read the words of Romans 13:13-14 which were so personal to his life that he sought the Lord for mercy. Martin Luther unlike Augustine was a pious monk searching for peace through faithfulness to the Church. Failing to find peace his soul became increasingly dark until he realised the truth of Romans 1:17 and the light dawned. Therefore one of the Reformation mottos was “sol fide” (faith alone). Luther when introducing his commentary on this epistle would call it “the chief part of the New Testament and the very purest gospel” and he believed that “every Christian should know it word for word, by heart and occupy himself with it every day, as the daily bread of his soul”. As a Church of England clergyman whose testimony had been marred by scandal in America John Wesley returned home a broken man. On May 24th 1738 he entered a Moravian chapel in a London backstreet and felt in his words his heart “strangely warmed” as Luther’s introduction to Romans was read and the great evangelical revival was born. At the beginning of the 19th Century a Scotsman called Robert Haldane visited Geneva, Switzerland. Sitting beside some theoligical students he became greatly burdened by their ignorance of evangelical truth. He began Bible studies for this group of students in his room when he went through the Epistle to the Romans verse by verse. In these simple gatherings students were converted who greatly influenced the Protestant Church in that century. Among the converts was Merle D’Aubigne, one the greatest Reformation historians, and Gaussen, the author of one of the finest books upon the inspiration of the Scriptures. The English poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, was a most brilliant scholar who was acquainted with English, German and Classical literature. The Epistle of Paul to the Romans impacted him to such an extent that he described it as “the profoundest piece of literature in existence”.
The arguments for spending time attempting to understand this letter are so compelling that we ought to apply ourselves to the task praying that its message would mould and change our lives.
1: The Author
All are agreed that Paul is without dispute the author of this epistle.
He was a man raised up by God to reach the world with Gospel. He was born into a strict Jewish family and was sent to Jerusalem to be educated at the feet of Gamaliel, one of the foremost Rabbis. He was a Roman citizen giving him certain undeniable rights within the great empire. Also he was raised in the city of Tarsaus which ranked along with Athens (Greece) and Alexandria (Egypt) as one of the three important centres of Greek learning and culture. For these three reasons he could communicate with Jews and Gentiles in a Roman world.
The world situation in the Providence of God was ripe for a man with Paul’s background to be successful as a missionary. There was a world Government, Roman roads linking the centres of civilisation, world peace, the religion of the Jews was dispersed throughout the world, a world language and the Old Testament had been translated into this common Greek language.
There is evidence within the Epistle which indicates that Paul was visiting Corinth for the second time during his 3rd missionary journey when writing:
A He was departing for Jerusalem having made a collection for the Christians at Jerusalem from the believers in Macedonia and Achaia (15:25-29, Acts 19:21 and 2nd Corinthians 8:1-2).
B He sent Phebe to Rome who was a believer in Cenhcreae ,the Corinth port (16:1).
C Gaius was his host who was one of those he baptised at Corinth (Romans 16:23 and 1 Corinthians 1:14).
D Scholars on this basis date the epistle around 58 – 57 AD.
2: The Addressee
The letter was addressed to the Christians at Rome.
The origins of the Roman Church are unclear. We know for example that the Apostle did not found this church as he did not visit the capital of the empire until his imprisonment. It would also seem that none of the apostles established this church because Paul on principle would not build on the foundation of another (15:20). Taking this into consideration it would seem that either after the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:10), or subsequent to the scattering of the Persecuted Church in Jerusalem (Acts 8:4), or as a result of the missionary zeal of the Antioch Church (Acts 13:1), or through the efforts of Paul’s planted churches in Asia Minor or Europe, or as a combination of all four Christians found their way to Rome. As many opportunities were to be found in such a large busy city and as travel was easier that at any other period in world history it was natural for many kinds of people to travel into Rome and Christians would have been included in that number.
There is considerable evidence, however, which indicates that there was a strong and vibrant Jewish community in Rome. Roman historians record that a number of Gentiles had even converted to Judaism which meant that the Old Testament Scriptures had become well known. It is clear that a number of these Jews had embraced Christ. Within the Epistle there are references to Paul having Jewish friends fellowshipping within the Church (16:3 and 16:7,11). He addresses the Jew directly (2:17) and reveals his concern for the Jewish people in chapters 9-11. He also addresses the Gentiles within the Church (11:13, 19-31 and 15:8-29). It is evident that the Roman Church was a melting pot where the greatest barrier in the Roman world had been overcome by the grace of God. It is understandable why he was at pains to point that both Jews and Gentiles are under sin (3:9).
It is clear that the Roman believers had a spiritual maturity which enabled Paul to write his most profound letter.
3: The Analysis
Justification by Faith
“Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ”
HOPE, used more frequently than in the other epistles. In a dark and pagan society these Christians could enjoy the light of hope.
1:16- 4 Necessity of Justifiation by Faith
5-8 The Effect of Justication by Faith
9-11 God’s Plan for his Ancient Justified People
12-16 Practical Considerations for a Justified People