Date: During Paul’s third missionary journey, likely around 57 AD
Location Written: Corinth; Gaius the Corinthian was hosting him
Audience: Church in Rome
Circumstances: The church in Rome was mainly Gentile Christians with a minority of Jews. These churches were neither founded by Paul nor Peter. Paul wrote this letter fearful that there would be an uprising between the Jewish and Gentile Christians because Jewish Christians were returning to predominately Gentile dominated churches due to Claudius’ edict. Gundry notes that “Paul’s discussion looks like what he has in mind to say in Jerusalem, where Jewish Christians harbor suspicions against him and his Gentile converts just as Gentile Christians in Rome harbor the same against Jewish Christians there” (pg. 446).
Chapter by Chapter Commentary:
Historical Cultural: Due to Hellenization, Greek was the diplomatic language and was established as the street language even in Rome. Some people some Latin, but the mass of slaves and freedman spoke Greek, so Paul wrote this Letter in Greek (Gundry, pg. 25).
Literary: Paul uses choice words throughout this first chapter, especially when describing God’s wrath upon humanity. In the first verse though, Paul defines himself as a servant of Jesus Christ. This specific word choice indicates that Paul willingly chose to dedicate his life to following and serving Christ; he is fully devoted. Continuing through this chapter, Paul begins to describe the sin of the Gentiles. In verse 20, he clearly states that all of creation reveals God, so there is no reason to sin, yet humanity has. Paul discussed idols, sexual immorality, and lust. Thus, God gave them over to sin as an act of judgement. Paul uses very vivid words when describing the sin and the sinners: evil, wickedness, gossips, slanders, God-haters, arrogant, no understanding, no love, no fidelity, to name a few. These words are convicting to readers because they don't want to be identified with those harsh words. Finally, in verse 32, Paul indicates that “they know God’s righteous decrees” indicating their choices were not out of ignorance, but out of pure disobedience; it leaves no discrepancy regarding sinful choices.
The Chapter in a Sentence: Paul states his authority and longing to be with the Romans, then gives a vivid description of God’s wrath against humanity.
Key Verse: Romans 1:32: “Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.”
Historical Cultural: As Gundry notes, “The word ‘Jew’ means ‘praise.’ Therefore, the true Jew is the one whose life is praiseworthy by divine criteria” (pg. 439). In verse 1, when Paul states “you who pass judgment on someone else,” he is specifically referring to the Jews who looked down on the Gentiles because they didn’t follow the laws of the Old Testament. When Paul comments about the law, he is referring to the Mosaic law.
Literary: Paul speaks to the Jews with the authority that he acted the same way prior to his conversion. He knows the thoughts of a self-righteous Jew and states the common ways of thinking. He lists several sections of the law, like do not steal, do not commit adultery, and then asks, “do you not do these things?” He’s claiming that it is more dishonoring to God to preach these laws and not practice them, than to simply not practice them in general. This also helps establish greater credibility and relationship because the Jewish readers know that he isn’t speaking from a place of “I’m better than you,” but rather “I know the ways you think, but I know the benefits of this transformation.”
The Chapter in a Sentence: Paul explains God’s judgment and explains that the Jews must practice what they preach.
Key Verse: Romans 2:13: “For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God's sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.”
Historical Cultural: Paul notes a long section of the Old Testament from verses 10-18. The citations are not always verbatim because they were meant to give the general sense, and quotations marks were not used in Greek. Gundry notes that the words “expiation” or “propitiation” may refer to the mercy seat, which was a “gold lid ver the Ark of the Covenant. On this side the Jewish high priest sprinkled sacrificial blood once a year to atone for the sins of Israel” (pg. 440). The words expiation or propitiation are used in various versions in verse 25.
Literary: After describing the sins of the Gentiles and the sins of the Jews, Paul denotes that both people are equal. Paul makes a stark, intentional contrast between humanity’s sin, and the faithfulness of God. He states that even when we fail to be faithful because of our sin problem, He remains faithful (v. 3). He strengthens the argument that both Jews and Gentiles are slaves to sin by quoting several passages from the Old Testament; what was true in earlier years, remains true to the Romans, and even still today. Finally, Paul provides hope to the readers by explaining that all have sinned, but all are “justified freely by his grace” (v. 24). Paul successfully explains the problem, then provides a solution.
The Chapter in a Sentence: Paul explains God’s faithfulness, then clarifies that neither Jew nor Gentile (or any of humanity) is righteous, but can be made righteous through faith.
Key Verse: Romans 3:24: “And all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”
Historical Cultural: Abraham was known as the great patriarch of the Jewish nation. Abraham was declared righteous in Genesis 15:6, which is 14 years before he was circumcised at age 99, stated in Genesis 17:24. This emphasizes that righteousness is gained through faith, not works, like Paul was promoting.
Literary: After explaining that faith does not come from following the law, but through faith, Paul uses the example of Abraham to strengthen his argument. Abraham was before the Mosaic law, yet because of his faith, God richly blessed him; he was the father of the nations! It is crucial that Paul uses this example from the Old Testament because it shows that what is true now has always been true; God has not changed the predestination of His people. Paul’s main emphasis is that Abraham’s faith that God would fulfill His promises was what made him righteous. Again, Paul states that it is faith, not works that leads to righteousness.
The Chapter in a Sentence: Paul uses Abraham as an example to what true faith looks like.
Key Verse: Romans 4:16: “Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all.”
Historical Cultural: Gundry notes in verses 10 and 11 that “the terms ‘reconcile’ and ‘reconciliation’…refer to the turning of sinners from hatred against God to love for God” (pg. 441). Adam caused the original sin, which ultimately led to the sin of all humanity. Pauls statement in verse 12 refers to the fall which is discussed in Genesis 3:17-19.
Literary: Paul uses several cause and effect statements as well as contrasting negative and positive situations, which effectively excites readers of the hope in Jesus. In verses 3-5, Paul states that sufferings lead to perseverance, perseverance to character and chapter to hope. Thus, sufferings are actually beneficial. Paul also contrasts the sin from Adam resulting in death, but the obedience of Jesus, resulting in life. It’s as if Paul is reflecting on things of the past and and telling readers to trade their past mistakes, their sufferings, for the hope and life in Jesus. Also, Paul notes that we have a peace with God (v. 1), but it is important to understand the dual meaning of this. While we likely will experience the peace of God as a feeling, it also indicates a new “status” with God; through Jesus, we are now friends of God.
The Chapter in a Sentence: Paul presents the hope of Jesus Christ, because through Adam, we received death, but through Christ, we receive life.
Key Verse: Romans 5:19: “For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.”
Historical Cultural: Paul begins the doctrine of sanctification, which is the process believers grow to maturity in Christ.
Literary: After Paul speaks of salvation, he quickly discusses baptism, indicating the importance of the unity of the two. Salvation is an inward declaration, while baptism is an outward proclamation. Baptism is also a visual representation of what Christ did for us, and being washed clean of our sins for a new life. It is important to note that while baptism is not a means of salvation, it is closely associated to faith. It is also interesting how Paul uses the word “slave” as in a “slave to God” or a “slave to righteousness.” However, “slave to God” does not have a negative connotation like it does in “slaves to sin.” Rather, it implies being a willing servant.
The Chapter in a Sentence: Paul again, speaks of being dead to sin and alive in Christ, which makes us righteous.
Key Verse: Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Historical Cultural: The law had the power to condemn, but is no longer of concern to the believers. Philo, who wrote Special Laws, used the same word in Greek that Paul uses when talking about the power of desire and pleasure. Philo uses the word desire which can be translated to mean “lust,” though not just sexual lust (Gundry, pg. 442).
Literary: The metaphor Paul used at the beginning is a very helpful visual to readers. He explains that if a woman’s husband is alive and she has sexual relations with another man, she is considered an adulteress, but if the husband dies and she remarries, she is no longer bound to him. It is the same for new believers. Paul wanted them to know they are no longer bound to the legalism of the law, but to Christ. He didn’t completely deny the law though because the law was still initially from God. He recognizes that the law helps to identify sin, but then it was misconstrued. This is good clarification for readers, who continued to debate, especially about circumcision.
The Chapter in a Sentence: Paul explains the law, how Christ-followers are not bound to it, but how the law helped reveal sin.
Key Verse: Romans 7:13: “Did that which is good, then, become death to me? By no means! Nevertheless, in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it used what is good to bring about my death, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful.”
Historical Cultural: In verse 15, Paul mentions “adoption to sonship.” The Greek word for this term refers to the full legal standing of an adopted male heir in Roman culture. This term occurs four other times in the New Testament. Adoption was common among the Greeks and Romans, and they granted the adopted son all the privileges of a natural son, including inheritance rights.
Literary: To be predestined can indicate a couple of things. First of all, it can mean that God knows who will accept Him as Father before we do. It can also mean that because He is all-knowing, He chose us through grace before the world was even formed; He was prepared for us to receive adoption to sonship. From a corporate perspective, it can indicate that the church was predestined to be One with Christ. No matter the meaning, Paul indicates that predestination is both gracious and glorious, and is indicative of a loving God.
The Chapter in a Sentence: Paul explains what life in the Spirit is, how suffering now leads to glory later, and how we can never be separated from Christ.
Key Verse: Romans 8:30: “And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.”
Historical Cultural: The mentions of patriarchs in verse 5 includes Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and their sons. The mentioning of the people of Israel refers to the descendants of Jacob who in Genesis 32, was renamed Israel. After the kingdom split, Israel referred to the northern Kingdom. Later in time, Palestinian Jews used this title to indicate being God’s “chosen people.”
Literary: It is unique that Paul uses Pharaoh as a negative example in this chapter because he is important to the culture and history. It further backs Paul’s point that God works for the good of those who love Him. It also adds strength to his argument that God is sovereign. Even in the difficult times, or under horrific leadership, God still prevails and will exemplify His power. It is through believing in this power and trusting that God knows what He is doing that creates the basis of faith. Paul states another example to strengthen his point about faith not by works, but by belief. He explains Israel’s unbelief and how they failed to live by the God-given law, which was meant to reveal Christ.
The Chapter in a Sentence: Paul teaches of God’s sovereign choices and uses Israel’s unbelief as a lesson to the readers.
Key Verse: Romans 9:23: “What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy whom he prepared in advance for glory.”
Historical Cultural: The Greek word for culmination as used in verse 4 can either mean termination or fulfillment; in this verse, it is best understood as Christ being the fulfillment. The statement “Jesus is Lord” in verse 9 is the earliest Christian confession of faith. “Lord” was used over 6,000 times in the Septuagint to translate Yahweh, so Paul is affirming the God of Israel is still present among His people.
Literary: Paul’s authority is established in this chapter because of his past. Verse 2 states, “For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge.” This is because Paul himself had this zealousness before his conversion. He was zealous about the law, to the extreme of persecution, but did not have correct knowledge about salvation; it was based on following the law strictly in his mind.
The Chapter in a Sentence: Paul continues to speak about Israel’s unbelief and shares how one obtains salvation.
Key Verse: Romans 10:9: “If you declare with your mouth ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
Historical Cultural: The first half of verse 16 refers to Numbers 15:17-21. The dough made from the first of the harvested grain was offered to the Lord, which blessed the whole batch.
Literary: I had to read through this chapter a couple different times and in different versions because it was difficult for my mind to wrap around it at first. Paul begins describing that there’s a minority of Israel who still believes in God’s grace and purpose in choosing them. Then Paul using the adoption to sonship of the Gentiles as an analogy of ingrafted branches. Christ is the original “God-planted” root; Israel, as God’s chosen people are the branches of that root. However, as the Israelites chose to fall away, their branches withered, and the Gentiles were ingrafted into this tree. There is still hope for return for the branches that fell away. Eventually, because the root of these branches is holiness and God is the gardener, the branches will become one, despite their different backgrounds. I love the way the Message version explains this unity and return. It explains the Israelites as walking out the door, leaving God, but they left the door open. The Gentiles became the insiders, and the Israelites know what it feels like to be an outsider. Verses 31-32 of the Message are beautiful: “But with the door held wide open for you, they have a way back in. In one way or another, God makes sure that we all experience what it means to be outside so that he can personally open the door and welcome us back in.” This of course, is speaking of God’s mercy. Well this was challenging to read at first, it exemplifies God’s character, as well as the importance of equality. Jews and Gentiles alike have opportunities to seek God’s Kingdom, and one group should not hinder the other.
The Chapter in a Sentence: Paul speaks of the minority of Israel that still remains in Christ, then explains that while the Israelites have walked out on God, they provided an opportunity to make Christ known to the Gentiles, and it is the Gentiles turn to return the favor; thus, all of Israel will be saved.
Key Verse: Romans 11:32: “For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.”
Historical Cultural: In verse 2, Paul commands us to be transformed. The translated Greek word used here is also the same Greek word used in the transfiguration mentioned in Matthew 17 and Mark 9. This chapter begins the practical application that is commonly found in Paul’s letters.
Literary: In the first two verses of this chapter, Paul offers convicting and thought-provoking statements. First, he says offering your body as a sacrifice is true and proper worship. Here, Paul is not referring to just the physical body, but also all the body encompasses: the heart, the mind, and the spirit. To worship Him is more than just singing or praying, it is an intentional act of full commitment to surrender. Secondly, Paul says be transformed by the renewing of your mind. This transformation does not happen instantly; it is a process. Finally, in verses 9-21, Paul takes Jesus’ life and puts it into key steps and actions one must take to be the embodiment of love.
The Chapter in a Sentence: Paul discusses Christian living again: offering your body as a sacrifice, serving others humbly, and loving others through more than just words.
Key Verse: Romans 12:1: “Therefore, I urge you brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.”
Historical Cultural: Gundry notes that Paul’s command to submit to authority is not meant to support totalitarianism. “Resistance for purely political or selfish reasons deserves censure, but not resistance for moral and religious reasons” (pg. 444).
Literary: Paul states that sum of all the commands is to love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus also said this in Mark 12. To love others is to not cause them harm, or to not cause them to stumble in their faith. Truly loving others like Jesus, would mean that you would fulfill several of the commands. To fulfill the rest, it is easy because you don’t want to harm yourself or do anything that causes you to stumble further away from Jesus. The main point however, is that loving God will bring obedience, and naturally, you will desire to follow the laws out of reverence and love for God.
The Chapter in a Sentence: Paul commands the readers to submit to authority because ultimately, God put them in charge; he then states that love is the fulfillment of the law, and warns people to prepare for the day of the Lord.
Key Verse: Romans 13:10: “Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”
Historical Cultural: When Paul refers to those of weak faith, he is likely referring to the Jewish Christians at Rome who were continuing to observe things like dietary restrictions and keeping of holy days. Romans usually ate four meals a day, Jews only at two. God denoted all things made by him as clean, as is revealed to Peter in Acts 10. People were still wrestling with the commands from the Mosaic law and the newfound freedom from the law.
Literary: Paul’s points in this chapter help strengthen his statements from chapter 11, which ultimately explain that despite cultural differences and different faith beliefs, Christ is Lord of all. In this chapter, Paul explains that if you have considered something to be right in God’s eyes (and it truly is), but another of weaker faith has a different perspective, submit and practice their beliefs. This is specific to the cleanliness of food from their culture. Paul states it as: “Do not let what you know is good be spoken of as evil” (v. 16). Our ultimate goal is the our actions point to Jesus; if our actions cause someone to stumble in their faith because they believe our actions to be evil, we must be willing to sacrifice our comfort. This also relates back to the previous chapter about loving others. Loving others means we don’t cause them to stumble in their walk with God. It is important to clarify though, that strong Christians don’t change their convictions or God-given standards, they just don’t flaunt their freedoms if someone else has not yet realized that freedom.
The Chapter in a Sentence: Paul discusses the weak and the strong in faith, especially regarding what people eat and drink.
Key Verse: Romans 14:13: “Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.”
Historical Cultural: Paul wanted to go to Jerusalem because it was important to him that he deliver the collection, but he had received warnings about what might happen to him there. acts 20:22-23 states, the Holy Spirit warned him that prison and hardships would face him.
Literary: In verse 5, Paul prays that God will give them the same attitude and mind toward each other as Christ did. Paul does not mean that they all must believe the same thing (as was discussed in the last two chapters) because that also leads to discrepancy and legalism similar to the Pharisees. Instead, he means that as Christ loved, we must love others, even if we disagree. Christ disagreed with many believers when He walked the earth, yet chose to die for those weak and strong in faith alike. We must also sacrifice ourselves to love others like He did.
The Chapter in a Sentence: Paul encourages readers to accept everyone no matter where they are in their walk and speaks of his plans to visit Rome.
Key Verse: Romans 15:6: “So that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Historical Cultural: Gundry mentions a couple points culturally important. First, “the commendation of Phoebe reflects the Christian practice in which a home church recommends on of its members to a church in the locality to which that member is moving or paying a visit.” Secondly, secular sources are clear that the edict regarding Jews being expelled from Rome expired after Claudius’s death. (pg. 445).
Literary: I love how Paul ends his letters by always giving the glory to God. It acknowledges that he has accomplished the work the Lord placed on his heart, and he is confident that God will move in the readers hearts through his work. It’s a humble ending and always points back to the purpose of everything he does—to make His name known to the hearts of unbelievers.
The Chapter in a Sentence: Paul sends his personal greetings to a number of people and warns readers of false teachers.
Key Verse: Romans 16:19: “Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I rejoice because of you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.”
Message to Us: Paul, a humble servant of Christ, who came to believe in His life, death, and resurrection wrote this letter to answer the primary questions of those who are curious about these events. However, more than a mere reporting of the facts and stories, Paul encourages readers to accept salvation which came through Jesus. This plan is non-exclusive, full encompassing, and life-giving. It begs readers to see Christianity through a different lens than what was culturally normal back then. Today, it challenges us to acknowledge our sin problem, accept His salvation, and live a holy life thereafter. We are free in Christ, inseparable from His love, and equal among all of humanity because of His resurrection. Yet, not only are we challenged to accept the Gospel, but to daily, choose to be transformed by the renewing of our mind and become a living sacrifice for God.
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