Epistle to the Romans
The Epistle to the Romans, often shortened to Romans, is the sixth book in the New Testament. Biblical scholars agree that it was composed by the Apostle Paul to explain that salvation is offered through the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the longest of the Pauline epistles and is considered his "most important theological legacy".
According to Jesuit scholar Joseph Fitzmyer, the book, "overwhelms the reader by the density and sublimity of the topic with which it deals, the gospel of the justification and salvation of Jew and Greek alike by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ, revealing the uprightness and love of God the father."
N. T. Wright notes that Romans is
...neither a systematic theology nor a summary of Paul's lifework, but it is by common consent his masterpiece. It dwarfs most of his other writings, an Alpine peak towering over hills and villages. Not all onlookers have viewed it in the same light or from the same angle, and their snapshots and paintings of it are sometimes remarkably unalike. Not all climbers have taken the same route up its sheer sides, and there is frequent disagreement on the best approach. What nobody doubts is that we are here dealing with a work of massive substance, presenting a formidable intellectual challenge while offering a breathtaking theological and spiritual vision.
According to traditional scholarly consensus, Paul authored the Epistle to the Romans. Few scholars have argued against Paul's authorship.
C. E. B. Cranfield, in the introduction to his commentary on Romans, says:
The denial of Paul's authorship of Romans by such critics... is now rightly relegated to a place among the curiosities of NT scholarship. Today no responsible criticism disputes its Pauline origin. The evidence of its use in the Apostolic Fathers is clear, and before the end of the second century it is listed and cited as Paul's. Every extant early list of NT books includes it among his letters. The external evidence of authenticity could indeed hardly be stronger; and it is altogether borne out by the internal evidence, linguistic, stylistic, literary, historical and theological.
The letter was most probably written while Paul was in Roman Corinth, and probably while he was staying in the house of Gaius and transcribed by Tertius his amanuensis. There are a number of reasons Corinth is most plausible. Paul was about to travel to Jerusalem on writing the letter, which matches Acts
The precise time at which it was written is not mentioned in the epistle, but it was obviously written when the collection for Jerusalem had been assembled and Paul was about to "go unto Jerusalem to minister unto the saints", that is, at the close of his second visit to Greece, during the winter preceding his last visit to that city. The majority of scholars writing on Romans propose the letter was written in late 55/early 56 or late 56/early 57. Early 58 and early 55 both have some support, while German New Testament scholar Gerd Lüdemann argues for a date as early as 51/52 (or 54/55) following on from Knox who proposed 53/54. Lüdemann is the only serious challenge to the consensus of mid to late 50s.
Some manuscripts have a subscription at the end of the Epistle:
- προς Ρωμαιους ("to the Romans") is found in these manuscripts: Codex Sinaiticus, Codex Alexandrinus, Codex Vaticanus, Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus, Codex Bezae;
- προς Ρωμαιους εγραφη απο Κορινθου ("to the Romans it was written from Corinth"): B2, D2 (P);
- προς Ρωμαιους εγραφη απο Κορινθου δια Φοιβης της διακονου ("to the Romans it was written from Corinth by Phoebus the deacon"): 42, 90, 216, 339, 462, 466*, 642;
- εγραφη η προς Ρωμαιους επιστολη δια Τερτιου επεμφτη δε δια Φοιβης απο Κορινθιων της εν Κεγχρεαις εκκλησιας ("the epistle to the Romans was written by Tertius and was sent by Phoebus from the Corinthians of the church in Cenchreae"): only in 337;
- προς Ρωμαιους εγραφη απο Κορινθου δια Φοιβης της διακονου της εν Κεγχρεαις εκκλησιας ("to the Romans it was written from Corinth by Phoebus the deacon of the church in Cenchreae"): 101, 241, 460, 466, 469, 602, 603, 605, 618, 1923, 1924, 1927, 1932, followed by Textus Receptus.
Context of Romans in Paul's life
For ten years before writing the letter (approx. 47-57), Paul had traveled around the territories bordering the Aegean Sea evangelizing. Churches had been planted in the Roman provinces of Galatia, Macedonia, Achaia and Asia. Paul, considering his task complete, wanted to preach the gospel in Spain, where he would not "build upon another man’s foundation".
In addition to Paul’s geographic location, his religious views are important. First, Paul was a Hellenistic Jew with a Pharisaic background (see Gamaliel), integral to his identity, see Paul of Tarsus and Judaism for details. His concern for his people is one part of the dialogue and runs throughout the letter. Second, the other side of the dialogue is Paul’s conversion and calling to follow Christ in the early 30s.
The Church in Rome
It is established that there were Jews living in Rome in the times of the Apostles, and that those Jews who had believed [in Christ] passed on to the Romans the tradition that they ought to profess Christ but keep the law [Torah] … One ought not to condemn the Romans, but to praise their faith, because without seeing any signs or miracles and without seeing any of the apostles, they nevertheless accepted faith in Christ, although according to a Jewish rite.
From Adam Clarke:
The occasion of writing the epistle: … Paul had made acquaintance with all circumstances of the Christians at Rome … and finding that it was … partly of heathens converted to Christianity, and partly of Jews, who had, with many remaining prejudices, believed in Jesus as the true Messiah, and that many contentions arose from the claims of the Gentiles to equal privileges with the Jews, and from absolute refusal of the Jews to admit these claims, unless the Gentile converts become circumcised; he wrote this epistle to adjust and settle these differences.
At this time, the Jews made up a substantial number in Rome, and their synagogues, frequented by many, enabled the Gentiles to become acquainted with the story of Jesus of Nazareth. Consequently, a church composed of both Jews and Gentiles was formed at Rome. According to Irenaeus, a 2nd century Church Father, the church at Rome was founded directly by the apostles Peter and Paul. However, many modern scholars disagree with Irenaeus, holding that while little is known of the circumstances of the church's founding, it was not founded by Paul.
Many of the brethren went out to meet Paul on his approach to Rome. There is evidence that Christians were then in Rome in considerable numbers and probably had more than one place of meeting.
Claudius died around the year AD 54, and his successor, Emperor Nero, allowed the Jews back into Rome, but then, after the Great Fire of Rome of 64, persecuted the Christians. Gentile Christians may have developed a dislike of or looked down on Jews (see also Antisemitism and Responsibility for the death of Jesus), because they theologically rationalized that Jews were no longer God's people. Fitzmyer argues that with the return of the Jews to Rome in 54 new conflict arose between the Gentile Christians and the Jewish Christians who had formerly been expelled. Historians question whether the Roman government distinguished between Christians and Jews prior to Nerva's modification of the Fiscus Judaicus in 96 (Jews paid the tax, Christians did not).
The Roman church would have to accept that the gospel was for the "Jew first and also to the Greek."
While scholars are often able to determine aspects of the context of NT writers from their letters, it is much more difficult to understand Paul's letter to the Romans. Scholars often have difficulty assessing whether Romans is a letter or an epistle:
A letter is something non-literary, a means of communication between persons who are separated from each other. Confidential and personal in nature, it is intended only for the person or persons to whom it is addressed, and not at all for the public or any kind of publicity...An Epistle is an artistic literary form, just like the dialogue, the oration, or the drama. It has nothing in common with the letter except its form: apart from that one might venture the paradox that the epistle is the opposite of a real letter. The contents of the epistle are intended for publicity—they aim at interesting "the public."
Joseph Fitzmyer argues, from evidence put forth by Stirewalt, that the style of Romans is an "essay-letter."Philip Melanchthon, a writer during the Reformation, suggested that Romans was caput et summa universae doctrinae christianae ("a summary of all Christian doctrine"). While some scholars attempt to suggest, like Melanchthon, that it is a type of theological treatise, this view largely ignores chapters 14 and 15 of Romans. There are also many "noteworthy elements" missing from Romans that are included in other areas of the Pauline corpus. The breakdown of Romans as a treatise began with F.C. Baur in 1836 when he suggested "this letter had to be interpreted according to the historical circumstances in which Paul wrote it."
Paul sometimes uses a style of writing common in his time called a "diatribe". He appears to be responding to a "heckler", and the letter is structured as a series of arguments. In the flow of the letter, Paul shifts his arguments, sometimes addressing the Jewish members of the church, sometimes the Gentile membership and sometimes the church as a whole.
Purposes of writing
The main purpose of the epistle to the Romans is given by Paul in, where he reveals that he is set apart by God for the purpose of preaching the Gospel, which he explains. He wishes to impart to the Roman readers a gift of encouragement and assurance in all that God has freely given them (see ; ).
The purposes of the apostle in dictating this letter to his Amanuensis Tertius
- Paul asks for prayers for his forthcoming journey to Jerusalem; he hopes that the offering collected from the Gentile churches will be accepted there.
- Paul is planning to travel to Rome from Jerusalem and to spend some time there before moving on to Spain; he hopes the Roman church will support his mission to Spain.
- Since Paul has never been to Rome, he outlines his gospel so that his teaching will not be confused by that of "false teachers".
- Paul is aware that there is some conflict between Gentile and Jewish Christians in the Roman church, and he addressed those concerns (chapters thirteen and the first half of fourteen). While the Roman church was presumably founded by Jewish Christians, the exile of Jews from Rome in AD 49 by Claudius resulted in Gentile Christians taking leadership positions.
To review the current scholarly viewpoints on the purpose of Romans, along with a bibliography, see Dictionary of Paul and His Letters. For a 16th century "Lollard" reformer view, reference can be made to the work of William Tyndale. In his prologue to his translation of the book of Romans, which was largely taken from the prologue of German Reformer Martin Luther, Tyndale writes that:
... this epistle is the principal and most excellent part of the new testament, and most pure evangelion, that is to say glad tidings and what we call the gospel, and also a light and a way in unto the whole scripture ... The sum and whole cause of the writings of this epistle, is, to prove that a man is justified by faith only: which proposition whoso denieth, to him is not only this epistle and all that Paul writeth, but also the whole scripture, so locked up that he shall never understand it to his soul's health. And to bring a man to the understanding and feeling that faith only justifieth, Paul proveth that the whole nature of man is so poisoned and so corrupt, yea and so dead concerning godly living or godly thinking, that it is impossible for her to keep the law in the sight of God.
This essay-letter composed by Paul was written to a specific audience at a specific time; to understand it, the situations of both Paul and the recipients must be understood.
Prayer of Thanksgiving (1:8-15)
He commends the Romans for their faith.
Salvation in Christ (1:16-8:39)
Righteousness of God (1:16-17)
Paul's announcement that he is not "ashamed" (epaiscúnomai) of his gospel because it holds power (dúnamis). These two verses form a backdrop for the rest of the book. First, we note that Paul is unashamed of his love for this gospel that he preaches about Jesus Christ. He also notes that he is speaking to the "Jew first."
Condemnation: The Universal corruption of Gentiles and Jews (1-18-3:20)
The judgment of God (1:18–32)
Paul now begins into the main thrust of his letter. He begins by suggesting that humans have taken up ungodliness and wickedness for which there will be wrath from God.
Paul's warning of hypocrites (2:1–4)
On the traditional Protestant interpretation, Paul here calls out Jews who are condemning others for not following the law when they themselves are also not following the law. Stanley Stowers, however, has argued on rhetorical grounds that Paul is in these verses not addressing a Jew at all but rather an easily recognizable caricature of the typical boastful person (ὁ ἀλαζων). Stowers writes, "There is absolutely no justification for reading as Paul's attack on 'the hypocrisy of the Jew.' No one in the first century would have identified ho alazon with Judaism. That popular interpretation depends upon anachronistically reading later Christian characterizations of Jews as 'hypocritical Pharisees'". See also Anti-Judaism.
- Justification: The Gift of Grace and Forgiveness through Faith (3:21-5:11)
Assurance of salvation (5–11)
Transformation of believers (12–15:13)
From chapter 12 through the first part of chapter 15, Paul outlines how the Gospel transforms believers and the behaviour that results from such a transformation. He goes on to describe how believers should live: not under the law, but under the grace of God, see Law and grace. If believers live in obedience to God, study the scriptures, (and share them with others) and love everybody, believers are not going to need to sin. As Paul says in , "love (ἀγάπη) worketh no ill to his neighbor: therefore love is the fulfilling of law". The fragment in dealing with obedience to earthly powers is considered by some, for example James Kallas, to be a gloss incorporated later. See also the Great Commandment (Romans 13:8–10) and Christianity and politics.
- Admonition (15:1-7)
- Summary of the Epistle (15:8)
Paul's ministry and travel plans (15:14–33)
The concluding verses contain a description of his travel plans, personal greetings and salutations. One-third of the twenty-one Christians identified in the greetings are women, some of whom played an important role in the early church at Rome. Additionally, none of these Christians answer to the name Peter, although according to the Catholic storyline, he had been ruling as Pope in Rome for about 25 years. Possibly related was the Incident at Antioch between Paul and Peter.
- Personal greetings (16:1-23 )
- Closing Doxology (16:25-27)
But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will be revealed. For he will render to every man according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are factious and do not obey the truth, but obey wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for every one who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality.
Throughout his writings, St. Augustine strongly affirms the Catholic understanding of this and other such Scriptural admonitions. In his sermons to his Catholic congregations, he is especially careful to warn them against an inordinate desire for a complete assurance of salvation. In his Exposition of Psalm 147 for example, he states:
The gospel warned us, "Be on the watch for the last day, the day when the Son of Man will come," because it will spell disaster for those it finds secure as they are now – secure for the wrong reasons, I mean, secure in the pleasures of this world, when they ought to be secure only when they have dominated this world's lusts. The apostle certainly prepares us for that future life in words of which I also reminded you on that occasion.
Again, in his Exposition of Psalm 85, Augustine is perhaps even more specific:
Let us not expect security while we are on pilgrimage. When we do find ourselves wanting it, what we are looking for is bodily sluggishness rather than personal security.
In the Protestant interpretation, the New Testament epistles (including Romans), describes salvation as coming from faith and not from righteous actions. For example,(emphasis added):
- "For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted unto him for righteousness".
They also point out that in Sermon on the Mount: Interpretation), Paul says that God will reward those who follow the law and then goes on to say that no one follows the law perfectly (see also
- Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal? Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery? thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege? Thou that makest thy boast of the law, through breaking the law dishonourest thou God? For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you, as it is written. For circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the law: but if thou be a breaker of the law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision.
Martin Luther described Paul's letter to the Romans as the "most important piece in the New Testament. It is purest Gospel. It is well worth a Christian's while not only to memorize it word for word but also to occupy himself with it daily, as though it were the daily bread of the soul".
Luther controversially added the word "alone" (allein in German) to  The word "alone" does not appear in the original Greek text, but Luther defended his translation by maintaining that the adverb "alone" was required both by idiomatic German and Paul's intended meaning. This is a "literalist view" rather than an literal view of the Bible.so that it read: "thus, we hold, then, that man is justified without doing the works of the law, alone through faith".
The Romans Road refers to a set of scriptures from Romans that Christian evangelists use to present a clear and simple case for personal salvation for each person. They are: Romans 3:23, Romans 6:23, Romans 5:8, Romans 10:9-10, Romans 10:13, and Revelation 3:20.
Romans has been at the forefront of several major movements in Protestantism. Martin Luther's lectures on Romans in 1515–1516 probably coincided with the development of his criticism of Roman Catholicism which led to the 95 Theses of 1517. In 1738, while hearing Luther's Preface to the Epistle to the Romans read at St. Botolph Church on Aldersgate Street in London, John Wesley famously felt his heart "strangely warmed", a conversion experience which is often seen as the beginning of Methodism. In 1919 Karl Barth's commentary on Romans, The Epistle to the Romans, was the publication which is widely seen as the beginning of neo-orthodoxy.
- Bible. N.T. Romans-Commentaries-Romans Demythologized by James Park
- Fitzmyer, xiii
- Leander E. Keck and others, eds., The New Interpreter's Bible: A Commentary in Twelve Volumes (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002) 395
- Cranfield, C. E. B. The Epistle to the Romans 1-8 (Vol. 1), International Critical Commentary Series. King's Lynn: T&T Clark Ltd, 2004, p. 1-2
- Dunn, xliv; Stuhlmacher, 5;
- Dunn, xliv
- Bruce, 280-281; Dunn, xliv
- ; cf. ; , ;
- Bruce, 12; Dunn, xliii
- Dunn, xliii-xliv
- Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (2001), p. 477.
- Bruce, 11-12
- TIB IX 1955 p. 367
- Ambrosius, Works, iii 373.
- A.C. 1831 VI p. 3
- Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book III,3,2
- "The Expositor's Bible Commentary", (Ed. F.E.Gaebelein, Zondervan, 1976-92) Commentary on Romans (Introduction)
- Suetonius' Lives of the Twelve Caesars, Claudius XXV.4
- Fitzmyer, 77
- Leander E. Keck, The New Interpreter's Bible, 407
- Fitzmyer, 77 also argues that this may be what Paul is referring to when he talks about the "strong" and the "weak" in ; this theory was originally put forth by W. Marxsen, Introduction to the New Testament: An Approach to its problems (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1968) but is critiqued and modified by Fitzmyer. Fitzmyer's main contention is that Paul seems to be purposefully vague. Paul could have been more specific if he wanted to address this problem specifically.
- A. Deissmann, Light from the Ancient East, 2nd ed (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1927), 218, 220
- Fitzmyer, p. 69
- Fitzmyer, p. 74
- Fitzmyer, p. 74, who notes that the Ekklesia, Eucharist and eschatology (especially the parousia) are not present in Romans
- s.v. "Romans, Letter to the"
- Tyndale's New Testament, edited by David Daniel (Yale University Press, London and New Haven, 1989), 223
- W.A. Brindle, "To The Jew First: Rhetoric, Strategy, History, or Theology?" Bibliotheca Sacra 159 (2002): 221
- for all of these comparisons see Ben Witherington's commentary on Romans, p. 63 which is available on a limited preview basis from Google books.
- Stowers, A Rereading of Romans. Yale Press, 1994, p.101
- The Sword and the Ploughshare Romans 13:1-7 an Interpolation?
- Review of the book Paul and Empire – Religion and Power in Roman Imperial Society (Edited by Richard A. Horsley)
- For an authoritative discussion of the Catholic viewpoint, see Catholic Encyclopedia, s.v. "Epistle to the Romans"
- Works, Expositions of the Psalms (121-150), 2004, New City Press, ISBN 1-56548-210-7 ISBN 9781565482104, Part 3, volume, 20, p. 446.
- Works, Expositions of the Psalms (73-98), 2002 John E. Rotelle, ed., ISBN 1-56548-167-4, ISBN 978-1-56548-167-1, part 3, vol. 18, p. 236. 
- Martin Luther's Preface to the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans cf. Luther's comments in his treatise on The Adoration of the Sacrament (1523) in which he refers to the words of institution of the Eucharist as being "the sum and substance of the whole gospel". Luther's Works, American Edition, St. Louis and Philadelphia: Concordia Publishing House and Fortress (Muhlenberg) Press, vol. 36 (Word and Sacrament II (1959)) , , p.277.
- The 1522 "Testament" reads at Romans 3:28: "So halten wyrs nu, das der mensch gerechtfertiget werde, on zu thun der werck des gesetzs, alleyn durch den glawben" (emphasis added to the German word for "alone"). 
- The Greek text reads: λογιζόμεθα γάρ δικαιоῦσθαι πίστει ἄνθρωπον χωρὶς ἔργων νόμου ("for we reckon a man to be justified by faith without deeds of law")
- Martin Luther, On Translating: An Open Letter (1530), Luther's Works, 55 vols., (St. Louis and Philadelphia: Concordia Publishing House and Fortress Press), 35:187–189, 195; cf. also Heinz Bluhm, Martin Luther Creative Translator, (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1965), 125–137.
- Bruce, F. F. (1983). The Epistle of Paul to the Romans: An Introduction and Commentary. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press.
- Dunn, J. D. G. (1988b). Romans 9–16. Word Bible Commentary. Dallas, Texas: Word Books, Publisher.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Easton, Matthew George (1897). "Romans,_Epistle_to_the". Easton's Bible Dictionary (New and revised ed.). T. Nelson and Sons.
- Fitzmyer, J. A. (1992). Romans. Anchor Bible Commentary. New York: Doubleday.
- Dunn, J. D. G. (1988a). Romans 1-8. Word Bible Commentary. Dallas, Texas: Word Books, Publisher.
- Rutherford, Graeme (1993). The Heart of Christianity: Romans [chapters] 1 to 8. Second ed. Oxford, Eng.: Bible Reading Fellowship. 248 p. ISBN 0-7459-2810-2
- Stuhlmacher, P. (1994). Paul's Letter to the Romans: A Commentary. Westminster: John Knox Press.
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