Lesson 2: The Epistle to the Romans
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The central theme of Romans is the revelation of the righteousness of God to man, and its application to one's spiritual need. Its theme is thus basic to all the believer's experience , for man cannot do business with God until a proper approach has been established. The epistle is directed primarily to Gentiles, but also addresses Jewish believers. Paul sketched the religious history of the Gentile world as the prelude to revelation (1:18-32); he asserted that God's salvation is for "Gentiles also" (3:29) and that there is "no distinction" between Jew and Greek in the way of faith. Romans asserts that salvation is universal in its scope. The development of this theme of the righteousness of God can best be seen in the outline.
In preparation for Paul’s next step in his missionary enterprise, he wrote the Epistle to the Romans. It was sent from Corinth, which is the traditional view, or from Philippi, just prior to sailing for Troas. Paul stated in its closing chapters that he had concluded his preaching as far as Illyricum (Rom. 15:19), that he had in hand the offering which the churches of Macedonia and Achaia had taken for the poor at Jerusalem (15:2-5), and that he was on the eve of sailing to Jerusalem to deliver it (15:25). He expected that his presence in Judea might not be well received by some, but he intended to return shortly in order to visit Rome, and even to go to Spain (15:24,28,32). Granting that Romans 16 is an integral part of the epistle, it was sent to Rome bv Phoebe, a deaconess of the church of Cenchrea, who was traveling in that direction (16:1). Paul had numerous friends at Rome. He had tried frequently to visit them, but had been hindered (15:22, 1:13) on each occasion. The church could not have been a large one and probably it consisted chiefly of Gentiies, since in addressing them he classed them as Gentiles (1:13), and since the later account of his visit to Rome as given by Acts indicates ignorance concerning the gospel on the part of the Jews. They had heard of the movement, but had not investigated it for themselves, nor had any others reported to them about it (Acts 28:21). The Gentile church of Rome had in it a small minority of Jews at the most; and the Jews who lived in Rome, having come to the city since the expulsion under Claudius, had not made the acquaintance of those who were in the church.
No hint is given in Romans that Peter had anything to do with the founding of this church. It seems to have been one that began spontaneously among believers, the majority of whom had probably migrated to Rome from other parts of the world. Paul had several reasons for being interested in this church. His desire to see the imperial city, the need of the believers for instruction, his wish to forestall any Judaizing activity in a group of great potential importance, and his hope of support from them as he undertook a tour to Spain (Rom. 15:24) - all contributed to his resolve to spend some time with them. Romans was written as a substitute for immediate personal contact and as preparatory for making the Roman church a missionary center comparable to Antioch, Ephesus, Philippi, and the other cities where Paul had labored. Romans, therefore, unlike Corinthians, is not devoted so much to, the correction of errors as to the teaching of truth. Although it does not comprise all the fields of Christian thought, it does give a fuller and more systematic view of the heart of Christianity more than any other of Paul's epistles, with the possible exception of Ephesians. Most of the Pauline epistles are controversial or corrective in nature; Romans is chiefly didactic.
ROMANS: THE GOSPEL OF GOD'S RIGHTEOUSNESS
I. Introduction 1:1-17
II. The Need of Divine Righteousness 1:18-3:20
The Decline of the Gentile World 1:18-32
The Doom of the Critic 2:1-16
The Dilemma of the Jew 2:17-3:8
The Universal Condemnation 3:9-20
III. The Manifestation of Divine Righteousness 3:21-8:39
The Medium of Righteousness: Faith 3:21-31
The Basis of Righteousness: Promise 4:1-25
The Attainment of Righteousness 5:1-21
The Aspects of Practical Righteousness 6:1-7:25
The Results of Righteousness: Life in the Spirit 8:1-39
IV. The Relation of Righteousness to the Jew 9:1-11:36
The Election of Israel 9:1-33
The Salvation of Israel 10:1-21
The Failure of Israel 11:1-24
The Future Salvation of Israel 11:25-32
V. The Application of Righteousness 12:1-15:13
Call to Consecration 12:1, 2
The Use of Gifts 12:3-8
Personal Relationships 12:9-21
Political Relationships 13:1-7
Public Relationships 13:8-14
Fraternal Relationships 14:1-15:13
VI. Conclusion 15:14-33
Personal Plans 15:14-29
Request for Prayer 15:30-33
VII. Postscript 16:1-27
Romans has long been the mainstay of Christian theology and should be also for Messianic Jews (Hebrew Christians). Most of its technical terms, such as justification, imputation, adoption, and sanctification, are drawn from the vocabulary of this epistle, and the structure of its argument provides the backbone of Christian thought. Its logical method is obvious. First, the theme is announced: ". . . the gospel ... is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth" (1:16). The need for that power is shown by the fall of the world, Jew and Gentile alike, so that "there is none righteous, no not one" (3:10). If, then, all are helpless and condemned, relief must come from without by providing for them both a legal and a personal righteousness. This is found in Messiah Yeshua (Jesus), "whom God set forth to be & propitiation, through faith, in his blood, to show his righteousness because of the pausing over of the sins done aforetime" (3:25). Since the sinner cannot earn his salvation, this righteousness must be accepted by faith. Individually and racially man is restored to his right position before God through the grace manifested in Yeshua.
Chapters 6 through 8 deal with the personal problems that rise out of the new spiritual relationships. "Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?" (6:1). "Shall we sin, because we are not under law, bur under grace?" (6:15). "Is the law sin?" (7:7). "Who shall deliver me out of the body of this death?" (7:24). All these questions are answered by the description of the personal life in the Spirit given in chapter 8.
The section comprising chapters 9 through 11 deals with a broader question. Has God, by instituting salvation for all by faith, Invalidated the covenant; with Israel which was established through the law? Paul said "By no means." (11:1). Paul also reaffirms Hebrew prophecy when he states that there will come a time when the Gentiles' opportunity "will close (11:25), and then all of Israel shall enter into their heritage." The present dealing of God with Gentiles is neither arbitrary nor accidental, but is in full accordance with the divine plan. The practical section of Romans makes close ethical application of the salvation described in the first eleven chapters. The redeemed individual is obligated to live a righteous life: "whether we live . . or die, we are the Lord's. For to this end Yeshua died and lived again, that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living" (14:8,9).
The conclusion (15:14-33) expresses Paul's own sense of debt to Yeshua for making known the gospel "not where Christ was already named" (15:20). He translated the obligation of the gospel of righteousness into missionary terms. Romans is a superb example of the integration of doctrine with missionary purpose. Had Paul not believed that men were lost and that God had provided a righteousness for them, he would not have been a missionary. Had he not been an active missionary, he never would have formulated so systematic a presentation of truth as Romans. It illustrates what he did when he "established" the converts in his churches.
(This study has been adapted from "New Testament Survey", by Merrill C. Tenney, Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois)