Bible Book Number 45—Romans
Place Written: Corinth
Writing Completed: c. 56 C.E.
1. What does Paul discuss in his letter to the Romans?
IN Acts we watched Paul, formerly a violent persecutor of Jewish Christians, become Christ’s zealous apostle to the non-Jewish nations. With Romans we begin the 14 books of the Bible that the holy spirit inspired this former Pharisee, now a faithful servant of God, to write. By the time he wrote Romans, Paul had already completed two long preaching tours and was well along on the third. He had written five other inspired letters: First and Second Thessalonians, Galatians, and First and Second Corinthians. Yet it seems appropriate that in our modern Bibles, Romans precedes the others, since it discusses at length the new equality between Jews and non-Jews, the two classes to whom Paul preached. It explains a turning point in God’s dealings with his people and shows that the inspired Hebrew Scriptures had long foretold that the good news would be proclaimed also to the non-Jews.
2. (a) What problems does Paul discuss in Romans? (b) What is firmly established by this letter?
2 Paul, using Tertius as secretary, laces rapid argument and an astounding number of Hebrew Scripture quotations into one of the most forceful books of the Christian Greek Scriptures. With remarkable beauty of language, he discusses the problems that arose when first-century Christian congregations were composed of both Jews and Greeks. Did Jews have priority because of being Abraham’s descendants? Did mature Christians, exercising their liberty from the Mosaic Law, have the right to stumble weaker Jewish brothers who still held to ancient customs? In this letter Paul firmly established that Jews and non-Jews are equal before God and that men are declared righteous, not through the Mosaic Law, but through faith in Jesus Christ and by God’s undeserved kindness. At the same time, God requires Christians to show proper subjection to the various authorities under which they find themselves.
3. How did the congregation in Rome get started, and what may account for Paul’s knowing so many there?
3 How did the Roman congregation get started? There had been a sizable Jewish community in Rome at least since the time of Pompey’s capturing Jerusalem in 63 B.C.E. At Acts 2:10 it is specifically stated that some of those Jews were in Jerusalem at Pentecost 33 C.E., where they heard the good news preached. The converted sojourners stayed in Jerusalem to learn from the apostles, and later the ones from Rome no doubt returned there, some probably at the time when persecution broke out in Jerusalem. (Acts 2:41-47; 8:1, 4) Further, the people of that day were great travelers, and this may explain Paul’s intimate acquaintance with so many members of the Roman congregation, some of whom may have heard the good news in Greece or Asia as a result of Paul’s preaching.
4. (a) What information does Romans provide concerning the congregation in that city? (b) What is indicated by the presence of Aquila and Priscilla in Rome?
4 The first reliable information about this congregation is found in Paul’s letter. It is clear from this that the congregation was made up of both Jewish and non-Jewish Christians and that their zeal was praiseworthy. He tells them: “Your faith is talked about throughout the whole world,” and, “Your obedience has come to the notice of all.” (Rom. 1:8; 16:19) Suetonius, writing in the second century, reports that during the rule of Claudius (41-54 C.E.), the Jews were banished from Rome. They later returned, however, as is shown by the presence of Aquila and Priscilla in Rome. They were Jews whom Paul met in Corinth and who had left Rome at the time of Claudius’ decree but who were back in Rome at the time Paul wrote to the congregation there.—Acts 18:2; Rom. 16:3.
5. What facts establish the authenticity of Romans?
5 The letter’s authenticity is firmly established. It is, as its introduction says, from “Paul, a slave of Jesus Christ and called to be an apostle, . . . to all those who are in Rome as God’s beloved ones, called to be holy ones.” (Rom. 1:1, 7) Its outside documentation is among the earliest to be found for the Christian Greek Scriptures. Peter uses so many similar expressions in his first letter, written probably six to eight years later, that many scholars think he must have already seen a copy of Romans. Romans was clearly regarded as a part of Paul’s writings and was cited as such by Clement of Rome, Polycarp of Smyrna, and Ignatius of Antioch, all of whom lived in the late first and early second centuries C.E.
6. How does an ancient papyrus testify to the canonicity of Romans?
6 The book of Romans is found, together with eight others of Paul’s letters, in a codex called Chester Beatty Papyrus No. 2 (P46). Regarding this early codex, Sir Frederic Kenyon wrote: “Here, then, we have a nearly complete manuscript of the Pauline Epistles, written apparently about the beginning of the third century.”a The Chester Beatty Greek Biblical papyri are older than the well-known Sinaitic Manuscript and Vatican Manuscript No. 1209, both of the fourth century C.E. These too contain the book of Romans.
7. What evidence is there as to place and time of writing of Romans?
7 When and from where was Romans written? There is no disagreement among Bible commentators that this letter was written from Greece, most probably from Corinth, when Paul visited there for some months toward the end of his third missionary journey. The internal evidence points to Corinth. Paul wrote the letter from the home of Gaius, who was a member of the congregation there, and recommends Phoebe of the nearby congregation of Cenchreae, Corinth’s seaport. Apparently it was Phoebe who carried this letter to Rome. (Rom. 16:1, 23; 1 Cor. 1:14) At Romans 15:23 Paul wrote: “I no longer have untouched territory in these regions,” and he indicates in the following verse that he intends to extend his missionary work west, toward Spain. He could well write this way toward the end of his third tour, at the beginning of 56 C.E.
CONTENTS OF ROMANS
8. (a) What does Paul say about his mission? (b) How does he show that both Jews and Greeks merit God’s wrath?
8 God’s impartiality toward Jew and Gentile (1:1–2:29). What does the inspired Paul tell the Romans? In his opening words, he identifies himself as an apostle chosen by Christ to teach ‘obedience by faith’ among the nations. He expresses his fervent desire to visit the holy ones in Rome, to enjoy “an interchange of encouragement” with them, and to declare among them the good news that is “God’s power for salvation to everyone having faith.” As had long ago been written, the righteous one will live “by means of faith.” (1:5, 12, 16, 17) Both Jews and Greeks, he shows, merit God’s wrath. Man’s ungodliness is inexcusable because God’s “invisible qualities are clearly seen from the world’s creation onward.” (1:20) Yet, the nations foolishly make gods of created things. However, the Jews should not judge the nations harshly, since they also are guilty of sins. Both classes will be judged according to their deeds, for God is not partial. Fleshly circumcision is not the determining factor; “he is a Jew who is one on the inside, and his circumcision is that of the heart.”—2:29.
9. (a) In what are the Jews superior, and yet what scriptures does Paul quote to show that all are under sin? (b) How, then, will a man be declared righteous, and what example supports this argument?
9 By faith all are declared righteous (3:1–4:25). “What, then, is the superiority of the Jew?” It is great, for the Jews were entrusted with God’s sacred pronouncements. Yet, “Jews as well as Greeks are all under sin,” and no one is “righteous” in God’s sight. Seven quotations are made from the Hebrew Scriptures to prove this point. (Rom. 3:1, 9-18; Ps. 14:1-3; 5:9; 140:3; 10:7; Prov. 1:16; Isa. 59:7, 8; Ps. 36:1) The Law shows up man’s sinfulness, so “by works of law no flesh will be declared righteous.” However, through God’s undeserved kindness and the release by ransom, both Jews and Greeks are being declared righteous “by faith apart from works of law.” (Rom. 3:20, 28) Paul supports this argument by citing the example of Abraham, who was counted righteous, not because of works or circumcision, but because of his exemplary faith. Thus Abraham became the father not only of the Jews but of “all those having faith.”—4:11.
10. (a) How did death come to rule as king? (b) What has resulted through Christ’s obedience, but what warning is sounded with regard to sin?
10 No longer slaves to sin but to righteousness through Christ (5:1–6:23). Through the one man, Adam, sin entered into the world, and sin brought death, “and thus death spread to all men because they had all sinned.” (5:12) Death ruled as king from Adam down to Moses. When the Law was given through Moses, sin abounded, and death continued to reign. But God’s undeserved kindness now abounds even more, and through Christ’s obedience many are declared righteous for everlasting life. Yet this is no license for living in sin. Persons baptized into Christ must be dead to sin. Their old personality is impaled, and they live with reference to God. Sin no longer rules over them, but they become slaves to righteousness, with holiness in view. “The wages sin pays is death, but the gift God gives is everlasting life by Christ Jesus our Lord.”—6:23.
11. (a) How does Paul illustrate the release of Christian Jews from the Law? (b) What did the Law make evident, and so what things are at war in the Christian?
11 Dead to the Law, alive by spirit in union with Christ (7:1–8:39). Paul uses the example of a wife, who is bound to her husband as long as he lives but who is free to marry another if he dies, to show how through Christ’s sacrifice Christian Jews were made dead to the Law and were free to become Christ’s and bear fruit to God. The holy Law made sin more evident, and sin brought death. Sin, dwelling in our fleshly bodies, wars against our good intentions. As Paul says: “For the good that I wish I do not do, but the bad that I do not wish is what I practice.” Thus, “the one working it out is no longer I, but the sin dwelling in me.”—7:19, 20.
12. How do some become joint heirs with Christ, and in what are these completely victorious?
12 What can save man from this miserable state? God can make those who belong to Christ alive through His spirit! They are adopted as sons, are declared righteous, become heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, and are glorified. To them Paul says: “If God is for us, who will be against us? Who will separate us from the love of the Christ?” No one! Triumphantly he declares: “We are coming off completely victorious through him that loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life nor angels nor governments nor things now here nor things to come nor powers nor height nor depth nor any other creation will be able to separate us from God’s love that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”—8:31, 35, 37-39.
13. (a) According to prophecy, who are included in the real Israel of God, and this is according to what divine principle? (b) Why did fleshly Israel fall short, but what is necessary for salvation?
13 “Israel” saved through faith and by God’s mercy (9:1–10:21). Paul expresses “great grief” for his fellow Israelites, but he recognizes that not all fleshly Israel is really “Israel,” since God has the authority to choose as sons whomever he wishes. As is shown by God’s dealings with Pharaoh and by the illustration of the potter, “it depends, not upon the one wishing nor upon the one running, but upon God, who has mercy.” (9:2, 6, 16) He calls sons “not only from among Jews but also from among nations,” as Hosea long before foretold. (Hos. 2:23) Israel fell short because of seeking to gain God’s favor, “not by faith, but as by works,” and because of stumbling over Christ, the “rock-mass of offense.” (Rom. 9:24, 32, 33) They had “a zeal for God” but not “according to accurate knowledge.” Christ is the end of the Law for those exercising faith for righteousness, and to gain salvation one must publicly declare “that Jesus is Lord” and exercise faith “that God raised him up from the dead.” (10:2, 9) Preachers are sent forth to enable people of all nations to hear, to have faith, and to call upon the name of Jehovah in order to be saved.
14. What does Paul illustrate by the olive tree?
14 Illustration of the olive tree (11:1-36). Because of undeserved kindness, a remnant of natural Israel has been chosen, but because the majority stumbled, “there is salvation to people of the nations.” (11:11) Using the illustration of an olive tree, Paul shows how, because of the lack of faith of fleshly Israel, non-Jews were grafted in. Nevertheless, non-Jews should not rejoice over the rejection of Israel, since if God did not spare the unfaithful natural branches, neither will he spare the wild olive branches grafted in from among the nations.
15. What is involved in presenting living sacrifices to God?
15 Making over the mind; the superior authorities (12:1–13:14). Present your bodies as living sacrifices to God, Paul counsels. No longer be “fashioned after this system of things,” but be “transformed by making your mind over.” Do not be haughty. The body of Christ, like a human body, has many members, which have different functions, but they work together in unity. Return evil for evil to no one. Leave vengeance to Jehovah. Conquer “the evil with the good.”—12:2, 21.
16. How must Christians walk before authorities and others?
16 Be in subjection to superior authorities; it is the arrangement of God. Keep doing good and do not be owing anyone a single thing except to love one another. Salvation approaches, so “put off the works belonging to darkness” and “put on the weapons of the light.” (13:12) Walk in good behavior, not according to the desires of the flesh.
17. What is counseled concerning judging and building up the weak?
17 Welcome all impartially without judging (14:1–15:33). Put up with those who, because their faith is weak, abstain from certain foods or observe feast days. Neither judge your brother nor stumble him by your own eating and drinking, since God judges everyone. Pursue peace and upbuilding things, and bear the weaknesses of others.
18. (a) What further quotations does Paul make in showing God’s acceptance of the non-Jews? (b) How does Paul himself take advantage of God’s undeserved kindness?
18 The apostle writes: “All the things that were written aforetime were written for our instruction,” and he gives four more Hebrew Scripture quotations as final proof that the inspired prophets had long before foretold that God’s promises would extend to the non-Jewish nations. (Rom. 15:4, 9-12; Ps. 18:49; Deut. 32:43; Ps. 117:1; Isa. 11:1, 10) “Therefore,” Paul admonishes, “welcome one another, just as the Christ also welcomed us, with glory to God in view.” (Rom. 15:7) Paul expresses appreciation for the undeserved kindness given to him by God to be a public servant to the nations, “engaging in the holy work of the good news of God.” He is always seeking to open up new territories instead of “building on another man’s foundation.” And he is not yet finished, for he plans, after taking contributions to Jerusalem, an even greater preaching tour to distant Spain and, on his way there, to bring “a full measure of blessing from Christ” to his spiritual brothers in Rome.—15:16, 20, 29.
19. What salutations and exhortation conclude the letter?
19 Concluding salutations (16:1-27). Paul sends personal greetings to 26 members of the Roman congregation by name, as well as to others, and exhorts them to avoid persons who cause divisions and to “be wise as to what is good, but innocent as to what is evil.” All is for God’s glory “through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.”—16:19, 27.
20. (a) What logical reason does Romans give for belief in God? (b) How are God’s righteousness and mercy illustrated, and what does this lead Paul to exclaim?
20 The book of Romans presents a logical basis for belief in God, stating that “his invisible qualities are clearly seen from the world’s creation onward, because they are perceived by the things made, even his eternal power and Godship.” But more than this, it goes on to exalt his righteousness and to make known his great mercy and undeserved kindness. This is beautifully brought to our attention through the illustration of the olive tree, in which the wild branches are grafted in when the natural branches are lopped off. In contemplation of this severity and kindness of God, Paul exclaims: “O the depth of God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How unsearchable his judgments are and past tracing out his ways are!”—1:20; 11:33.
21. How does Romans show the further development of God’s sacred secret?
21 It is in this connection that the book of Romans explains the further development of God’s sacred secret. In the Christian congregation, there is no longer a distinction between Jew and Gentile, but persons of all nations may share in Jehovah’s undeserved kindness through Jesus Christ. “There is no partiality with God.” “He is a Jew who is one on the inside, and his circumcision is that of the heart by spirit, and not by a written code.” “There is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for there is the same Lord over all, who is rich to all those calling upon him.” For all of these it is faith, and not works, that is counted to them as righteousness.—2:11, 29; 10:12; 3:28.
22. What practical counsel does Romans give concerning relations with those outside the congregation?
22 The practical counsel contained in this letter to the Christians in Rome is equally beneficial to Christians today, who have to meet similar problems in an alien world. The Christian is exhorted to “be peaceable with all men,” including those outside the congregation. Every soul must “be in subjection to the superior authorities,” for these constitute an arrangement of God and are an object of fear, not to the law-abiding, but to those who do bad deeds. Christians are to be in law-abiding subjection not only on account of the fear of punishment but on account of Christian conscience, therefore paying their taxes, rendering their dues, meeting their obligations, owing no one anything, “except to love one another.” Love fulfills the Law.—12:17-21; 13:1-10.
23. How does Paul emphasize the importance of public declaration, and what example does he give as to preparation for the ministry?
23 Paul emphasizes the matter of public testimony. While it is with the heart that one exercises faith for righteousness, it is with the mouth that one makes public declaration for salvation. “Everyone who calls on the name of Jehovah will be saved.” But in order for this to take place, it is necessary for preachers to go forth and “declare good news of good things.” Happy is our portion if we are among these preachers whose sound has now gone out “to the extremities of the inhabited earth”! (10:13, 15, 18) And in preparation for this preaching work, may we try to become as familiar with the inspired Scriptures as was Paul, for in this one passage (10:11-21) he makes quotation upon quotation from the Hebrew Scriptures. (Isa. 28:16; Joel 2:32; Isa. 52:7; 53:1; Ps. 19:4; Deut. 32:21; Isa. 65:1, 2) He could well say: “All the things that were written aforetime were written for our instruction, that through our endurance and through the comfort from the Scriptures we might have hope.”—Rom. 15:4.
24. What advice does Paul give with a view to building zeal and happy relations within the congregation?
24 Wonderfully practical advice is given on relations within the Christian congregation. Whatever their previous national, racial, or social background, all must make over their minds to render God sacred service according to his “good and acceptable and perfect will.” (11:17-22; 12:1, 2) What practical reasonableness breathes through all of Paul’s counsel at Romans 12:3-16! Here indeed is excellent admonition for building zeal, humility, and tender affection among all in the Christian congregation. In the closing chapters, Paul gives strong admonition on watching and avoiding those who cause divisions, but he also speaks of the mutual joy and refreshment that come from clean associations in the congregation.—16:17-19; 15:7, 32.
25. (a) What proper view and further understanding does Romans give concerning God’s Kingdom? (b) In what ways should the study of Romans benefit us?
25 As Christians, we must continue to watch our relations with one another. “For the kingdom of God does not mean eating and drinking, but means righteousness and peace and joy with holy spirit.” (14:17) This righteousness, peace, and joy is especially the portion of the “joint heirs with Christ,” who are to be “glorified together” with him in the heavenly Kingdom. Note, too, how Romans points to a further step in the fulfillment of the Kingdom promise given in Eden, saying: “The God who gives peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly.” (Rom. 8:17; 16:20; Gen. 3:15) Believing these great truths, may we continue to be filled with all joy and peace and abound in hope. Let our determination be to come off victorious with the Kingdom Seed, for we are convinced that nothing in heaven above or in earth below “nor any other creation will be able to separate us from God’s love that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”—Rom. 8:39; 15:13.
a Our Bible and the Ancient Manuscripts, 1958, page 188.